Chris Whitty never hides his unease when discussing the easing of coronavirus rules.
Three weeks ago, it was England’s chief medical officer who issued a dire plea for people not to hug elderly relatives this Christmas “if you want them to survive”.
On Wednesday, with the government’s five-day easing of restrictions being questioned, Prof Whitty once again called for restraint at a Downing Street press conference.
He did, however, acknowledge the “natural wish” of people to gather at Christmas, with three households allowed to mix between 23 and 27 December across the UK (two households in Wales).
Watch: All you need to know from the government's coronavirus briefing on Christmas
It was in this spirit that Prof Whitty listed four ways people can be safer over the festive period…
1. ‘Keep it small’
Prof Whitty said: “The smaller the number of households that meet together over the festive season, the less transmission there will be.
“Smaller numbers in bubbles, smaller numbers that you meet in any other situation… all of this helps pull down the risk for your family, for your friends and for the wider community.”
2. ‘Keep it short’
“The shorter the period that people are together,” Prof Whitty said, “the less risk there is of transmission occurring.”
These two warnings about “keeping it small and short” were in line with Boris Johnson’s advice at the same briefing, with the prime minister saying the three-household, five-day limits are “not targets to aim for”.
3. ‘Keep it local’
Prof Whitty said: “People travelling from high incidence areas where there is a lot of transmission, to lower incidence areas, have the risk of actually passing on the virus.”
Some 34 million people, or 61% of England’s population, are currently under the highest Tier 3 restrictions for “very high alert” areas where there is high transmission.
4. ‘Think of the most vulnerable people’
Urging people to keep their distance, Prof Whitty said: “Think about… an elderly or medically vulnerable person who would very soon be protected but at the moment is not.”
Since the rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine began last week, more than 137,000 people have received their first doses.
Prof Whitty had earlier said “we are tantalisingly close to the stage where anybody who gets into trouble as a result of actions this Christmas would have been protected in the very near future”.
Watch: The COVID dos and don’ts of Christmas this year