Senior officials across Devon have warned that Christmas this year will be unlike previous ones and that the end of the lockdown should not be seen as a return to normal.
The three-tiered regional measures will return from December 2 and the lockdown will end, but each tier will be toughened.
But between December 23 and 27, three households will be allowed to form a temporary “Christmas bubble” in a relaxation of the rules, allowing people in all Tiers to mix indoors and stay overnight.
Steve Brown, Director of Public Health Devon (Designate) though has warned that Christmas this year will be unlike previous ones, as the country tightens restrictions in response to coronavirus.
As the country waits to hear from the Government which of the Tiers they fall in to, he said: “There is a lot of talk about ‘will we be able to have a normal Christmas’, but I can categorically tell you that it will not be normal. It will not be like a previous Christmas.
“It is really important that we remind ourselves of those measures (keep social distances, wear face coverings when indoors in public spaces, and wash our hands properly and regularly), during this time. Even over the Christmas period, because it’s a very, very high price to pay if we relax our guard during Christmas and into the New Year.
“I am sure that everyone would agree that we need to protect our loved ones, and particularly those who are most vulnerable.”
Areas will not find out which tier they are in until tomorrow (Thursday, November 26) and the allocation of tiers will be dependent on a number of factors, including each area’s case numbers, the reproduction rate – or R number – and the current and projected pressure on the NHS locally.
Cllr John Hart, Devon County Council’s Leader and Chair of the Local Outbreak Engagement Board, said: “We need to await the full detail of the post lockdown three-tier system and what support the Prime Minister’s proposals receive, but here in Devon we would broadly welcome some relaxation of the current rules.
“We have done really well so far in keeping case numbers relatively low and I would like to thank everyone for their actions during the latest lockdown, which appear to have slowed any local increase and helped to reduced pressure on our hospitals.
“But whilst we welcome any opportunity for local shops and businesses to re-open in the run up to Christmas and for all our lives to get back closer to some form of normality, we must also urge caution.
“The number of cases out in our communities is still a real concern, particularly in the working age population and among older people.
“We must not let down our guard now or throw caution to the wind over the next few weeks and over the Christmas period.
“It would take little for the numbers to start to increase again and for our hospitals to be overwhelmed, and none of us should want to pay the price for that in a few week’s time or in the New Year.”
The rolling seven-day rate of new cases of Covid-19 for the seven days to November 20 has three of Devon’s districts in the lowest 10 of all 315 English areas, including Teignbridge which has the lowest rate, 52.9 per 100,000, of anywhere.
However, council leaders are urging people and businesses in the district to ‘behave’ after lockdown 2 ends, despite the low number of cases.
Leader of Teignbridge District Council, Cllr Alan Connett, said: “Teignbridge has remained one of the lowest local authorities in terms of infection rates, and this is testament to our local residents and businesses and to everyone involved with ensuring we keep ourselves and our communities safe.
“However, we’re reaching a critical time in the coming weeks, where the end of lockdown signals an opening up of high streets, the hospitality industry and other businesses and premises.
“We welcome this return, and the opportunity for our local economy to begin to recover from the enormous impact the pandemic has had on it this year, and for local people to spend locally and support local businesses in the run-up to Christmas.
“However, we need to proceed with the utmost caution. We cannot put in jeopardy everything we have worked so hard to achieve. The end of lockdown should not be seen as a return to normal, but as an opportunity to practice the measures that have now become part of our routine – safe distancing, good hand hygiene and protecting ourselves and others through wearing face coverings.”