Britain could ease stringent Covid-19 rules to allow families to gather for Christmas as signs indicate that coronavirus cases are starting to flatten as a result of current lockdowns, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Friday.
The United Kingdom has the worst official Covid-19 death toll in Europe and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed some of the most stringent curbs in peacetime history in an attempt to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
But heading into the holiday season, the government faces a dilemma - to ease restrictions, with the risk of renewed spread of the disease and death, or to ban large get-togethers.
"It of course won't be like a normal Christmas, there will have to be rules in place," Hancock told Sky News.
He said he hoped that restrictions, which include a strict lockdown in England, could be eased to "allow for a bit more of that normal Christmas that people really look forward to".
Hancock said he was working with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - which manage their own policies on combating the pandemic - for a UK-wide approach to rules for Christmas.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford told BBC TV that there would be a meeting next week to work out the details, and he hoped people in Wales would be able to see relatives and friends in England "in the most simple and straightforward way that we can devise together".
The head of London's Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, said that while police might try to stop wild parties, there were better uses of police time than trying to catch families out.
"Let's see what the rules are, but I have no interest in interrupting family Christmas dinners," she told LBC radio.
England has been under lockdown for two weeks, which Hancock said was helping to flatten case numbers. It is due to end on Dec. 2, although ministers have not ruled out that it could be extended.
Scotland's biggest city Glasgow and parts of the country's west and central regions begin a stricter lockdown regime on Friday to last until Dec. 11, including the closure of pubs and restaurants and non-essential shops.
Christmas in Britain normally features a hectic round of boozy office parties, as well as family gatherings which often entail long journeys.
Cambridge statistician David Spigelhalter said rules over ventilation, distancing and speaking volume, as well as people's natural caution, might help over the festive period.
"I wonder if they'll ban singing and maybe they'll try to make a rule against family rows at Christmas," he told BBC radio.
The death toll from the pandemic in the United Kingdom stands at 53,775, while the number of positive tests is 1,453,256 positive tests.