Don't hug grandma if you want her to survive Christmas, Chris Whitty warns

Henry Bodkin
Government advice is to ensure social distancing is maintained and physical contact is avoided - Ivan Pantic/E+
Government advice is to ensure social distancing is maintained and physical contact is avoided - Ivan Pantic/E+

The chief medical officer has warned family members not to hug elderly relatives this Christmas as he revealed that he will spend the festive period treating patients in hospital.

Professor Chris Whitty said that just because close physical contact between people from three different households will be legal, that does not mean it is safe.

Speaking alongside Boris Johnson in Downing Street on Thursday evening, he told the public to "take it really seriously during Christmas. Don't do stupid things".

He said: "Would I encourage someone to hug and kiss their elderly relatives? No I would not... if you want them to survive to be hugged again."

His comments came on the day the Government revealed that approximately 40 per cent of the country will be placed into the most restrictive Tier 3 band of restrictions from next Wednesday, when the national lockdown ends.

The rest of England will be designated Tier 2, apart from Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles, which will go into Tier 1.

A whole-UK agreement means that up to three households will be able to mix for five days from December 23.

Asked whether he would hug elderly relatives this Christmas, Prof Whitty said: "It is not against the law – and that's the whole point.

"You can do it in the rules that are there – but it does not make sense because you could be carrying the virus and, if you've got an elderly relative, that would not be the thing you want to do in the period where we're running up to a point where we might be able to protect older people.

"I think people just have to have sense, and this is very much what I think people will do."

The chief medical officer, a practising NHS consultant, said he would be spending Christmas "on the wards".

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser,  said people should ensure that, if they are mixing households over Christmas, wherever they are is well-ventilated and socially distanced where possible, urging them to "avoid behaviours that would spread the disease".

He said: "I think hugging elderly relatives is not something to go out and do – it will increase the spread to a vulnerable population."

Scientists believe close proximity for a prolonged period of time is one of the principle means by which Covid spreads. The other is through touching viral particles left on surfaces, hence the Government safety slogan "hands, face space".

Matt Hancock, the Heath Secretary, has previously appeared to rule out hugging relatives and friends at Christmas. Speaking on Times Radio earlier this month, he said: "I've got no doubt that people will continue to respect social distancing throughout, because we know that that is so important for full control of the virus."

This week, the Government pledged that relatives of care home residents in England will be able to hug their loved ones before Christmas if they test negative for coronavirus and wear protective equipment.

Its winter plan, published on Monday, said: "The Government is committed, by Christmas, to providing twice-weekly testing to enable all care home residents to have regular visits from up to two visitors.

"If a visitor has a negative test, is wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and follows other infection control measures, then it will be possible for visitors to have physical contact with their loved one, such as providing personal care, holding hands and hugging."