‘Just tragic’: Exasperated health expert’s fears over Christmas deaths

Emily Cleary
·3 min read

A health expert has outlined her fears that vulnerable people due to receive the coronavirus vaccine will die before they can get the jab due to Christmas mixing.

In an interview with Newsnight, Dr Christina Pagel said that the government was no longer protecting the NHS by pressing ahead with plans to relax rules for five days.

A clearly exasperated Dr Pagel cited advice from the British Medical Journal, Health Service Journal and British Medical Association and NHS chiefs who have all warned that relaxing social distancing rules is likely to lead to a third wave of the virus in the new year.

She said: "We know that whatever happens it will make it worse. It feels like we’re not protecting the NHS and we’re not protecting the people who will need the NHS.”

Visibly distressed, Dr Pagel said: “I find that really sad because there are going to be hundreds or thousands more deaths than there need to be, just as a vaccine is coming.

“The people who’ll get sick and die are the people who'd be first in line for the vaccine in January.

“That is just tragic to me.”

A happy  grandmother with her grandchild outside wearing reindeer antlers and a santa hat and protective face masks.
Experts are urging families to postpone Christmas reunions and keep vulnerable family members protected despite a five day relaxation of coronavirus rules (Getty)

In a rare and extremely damning joint editorial on Tuesday, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and the Health Service Journal (HSJ) warned that the government’s Christmas bubble plan was “rash”.

Up to three families can form a Christmas bubble to meet in a private home in England between 23 and 27 December (22 and 28 December in Northern Ireland) despite escalating COVID-19 cases and the emergence of a new strain linked to faster spread of the disease.

In Wales only two households can form a “Christmas bubble”, while Scots have been urged to meet for just one day and to avoid overnight stays.

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The Tier 3 COVID lockdown rules explained

The Tier 2 COVID lockdown rules explained

At a Downing Street briefing on Wednesday Boris Johnson issued a string of warnings about the risks of a family Christmas but said his decision to relax rules would stand.

The PM said he was “asking you to think hard and in detail about the days ahead” as he advised that a “smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas”.

Johnson stated the five-day easing of rules is not a “target to aim for” as he added: “Have yourselves a merry little Christmas.” Spluttering, he continued: “I’m afraid this year I do mean little.”

Watch: Who’s likeliest to bring coronavirus into a Christmas bubble?

On Thursday, Matt Hancock announced an increase in restrictions in England, escalating much of the south into Tier 3, meaning a total 38 million people in England – 68% of the population – will be living under the most restrictive measures from Saturday.

New Tier 3 areas include Bedfordshire; Buckinghamshire; Berkshire; Peterborough; the whole of Hertfordshire; Surrey with the exception of Waverley; Hastings and Rother on the Kent border of East Sussex; and Portsmouth, Gosport and Havant in Hampshire.

Only Bristol and North Somerset were taken down from Tier 2 to Tier 3 after a reduction in transmission rates in those areas.

Speaking in the Commons, Hancock suggested people should take “personal responsibility” if they want to move into less restrictive measures and keep the pandemic under control in the new year.

England’s chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty has also urged restraint as he told people to remember four things: “Keep it small, keep it short, keep it local and think of the most vulnerable people.”