Families should brace themselves for a coronavirus Christmas, a Cabinet Minister warned.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay admitted Covid-19 would mean the festivities were far from normal.
He said: “I think few people expect it to be exactly as it would normally because we will be living with this virus for some time – and the Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Scientific Adviser have been very clear on that.”
Mr Barclay said the “ability of families to spend Christmas together” was “something we all hope to be in a position to do”.
He added: “I would describe it as a shared endeavour for all of us. All of us wants to be able to enjoy Christmas with our families. That’s why there is a common purpose to get the virus down.”
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A Government scientific adviser also rang alarm bells over the festive season.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said “radical action” would be needed to stem the rise in coronavirus cases – particularly in regions with high infection rates.
He said: “The notion we can carry on as we are and have a Christmas that we can celebrate normally with friends and family is wishful thinking in the extreme.
“The only way that we can have a relatively safe and normal Christmas is if we take radical action now to reduce incidence – at the very least in high incidence areas – and keep the incidence low across the country by implementing a package of measures to reduce social contacts.”
The 17-day “firebreak” lockdown in Wales began at 6pm tonight.
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But First Minister Mark Drakeford insisted the shutdown was “about saving lives, not saving Christmas”. He hoped measures being rolled out across the UK would help curb the spread of Covid-19.
He added: “Then we will all be able to meet with family, with friends, have some sort of Christmas in which there is still something for us all to celebrate.”
Downing Street said it was the Government’s “ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year”.
But Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “The Prime Minister failed to listen to the scientists over the past few months and, as a result, family Christmas has become less likely not more likely.
“The awful truth is this Government has lost control of the virus and it’s costing lives and livelihoods. People up and down the country are desperate for Boris Johnson to get a grip of the situation well before Christmas.”
The warnings came as the UK death toll rose by 224, hitting 44,571. Another 20,530 cases were diagnosed.
Residents in swathes of the North and Midlands face an anxious weekend wait to learn if they will be hit with the toughest Tier 3 restrictions.
Talks between Whitehall officials and local leaders in Nottinghamshire, West Yorkshire, which covers Leeds and Bradford, the North East and Tees Valley continued about placing those areas into the “very high” alert level.
Tier 3 restrictions could come into force in parts of Nottinghamshire on Wednesday.
MPs from the region were briefed today that a Government announcement is due on Monday.
The areas thought to be in line for the highest level are Nottingham city, Rushcliffe, Broxtowe and Gedling.
Officials struck a deal to lift Warrington and the Cheshire town’s 210,000 population into Tier 3 from Thursday.
According to the real estate adviser Altus Group, up to 142 pubs and 12 wine bars will close unless they can operate as restaurants.
Sixteen betting shops in the town will also be forced to shut. But leisure centres, gyms, fitness centres, beauticians, hairdressers and trampoline centres can stay open.
Warrington Council has secured £5.9million from the Government
Council leader Russ Bowden said: “We have seen our case numbers remain stubbornly high, with more people being admitted to hospital and, upsettingly, more people being taken by the virus. As we approach winter, we need to take urgent action to drive down the number of cases.
“After negotiations with the Government, we have agreed a package of measures and funding that means our businesses and residents will get extra support.”
Greater Manchester was yesterday enduring its first day under the strictest curbs.
Supermarkets in Wales were ordered only to sell “essential” goods. Food stores cannot sell items such as clothes in a bid to lessen the blow to independent businesses forced to close.
First Minister Mr Drakeford said a “firebreak” was “the best course of action”. He said: “It is a sharp, deep form of restriction that creates a break in the transmission of the virus.
“We think it will work in Wales to this extent – not that it will magic the virus away, not that we will emerge on November 9 not needing to worry about it, but that it will reset the clock and allow us to get through to Christmas without needing to see a period of such significant restraint.”
Former Chancellor George Osborne launched a bitter attack on the Prime Minister, urging him to abandon upbeat statements.
Comparing the Tory leader with the PM’s hero Winston Churchill, Mr Osborne said: “Real leadership is about being realistic.
“Winston Churchill did not say in 1940, ‘We’re going to beat the Nazis in the next few months, we’re definitely going to win’. He said, ‘I’ve got nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears’.
“It wasn’t very optimistic, but it was realistic, and I think it played a very important part in national morale at that time.”