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Christmas may be 'problematic' as COVID is not over, warns UK health official

Christmas could be “problematic” as the COVID-19 pandemic is not over in the UK, a leading British health official warned on Wednesday.

UK’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam told the BBC: “Christmas, and indeed all of the darker winter months, are potentially going to be problematic.

“And I think the things that are really going to determine this are, first of all, human behaviors and caution over the winter months, but particularly in the next couple of months if you’re talking about Christmas, so it’s how cautious we are. The next one is how well the vaccination programs go.”

He urged caution as the pandemic is “not quite over” and “some hard months” to come in the winter, and stressed that “vaccines, boosters (are) really important.”

“I think a whole range of behaviors, including the use of face coverings, but generally the caution that people take or don’t take in terms of interacting with each other — that is going to be a big determinant in what happens between now and the kind of darkest months are the winter.”

Sir Jeremy Farrar, one of the UK’s leading scientists, said on Tuesday that he quit the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), the British government’s pandemic advisory body, at the end of October.

In a statement late last night, he said the situation in the UK was “concerning”. Local media reported that he was pushing for more restrictions ahead of winter, including increased wearing of facemasks and increased testing. The government has thus far refused to implement tougher restrictions.

Farrar’s statement said: “The COVID-19 crisis is a long way from over, with the global situation deeply troubling.

“The high levels of transmission seen in the UK remain concerning, but I stepped down as a participant of SAGE, knowing ministers had been provided with most of the key science advice needed over the winter months.”

Farrar is also the director of the Wellcome Trust, a London-based charity focused on health research.

He added in his statement: “My focus now must be on our work at Wellcome. This includes supporting the international research effort to end the pandemic, ensuring the world is better prepared for inevitable future infectious disease threats, and making the case so the full potential of science is realized to inform and drive change against all the urgent health threats we face globally.”

The government data released on Wednesday showed that 41,299 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the last 24 hours, a slight decrease after several days of rise, bringing the overall caseload to over 9.1 million. With 217 deaths recorded over the past day, the total number of fatalities caused by the coronavirus has reached 141,181.

Over 50 million people aged 12 and up have received their first vaccine doses, accounting for 87.1% as of Nov. 2, while over 45.7 million people have been fully immunized with two doses, making up for 79.6%, and over 8.6 million people have received a booster or third jab, accounting for 15%.

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