CHRISTMAS plans for hundreds of thousands of people across Oxfordshire are in tatters after new coronavirus restrictions were imposed by the Government.

While vast swathes of the South East, including neighbouring Buckinghamshire and Berkshire, have been locked in tough new Tier 4 restrictions, Oxfordshire remains in Tier 2. However, the planned relaxing of restrictions over the Christmas period has been scrapped – with only Christmas Day sparred.

The new rules, delivered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday, will allow three households to mix only on Christmas Day, instead of over five days as originally stated.

The decision was made to combat the spread of a Covid-19 mutation which is spreading rapidly across the South East.

Figures suggest the new variant could increase the infection rate – or ‘R number’ by 0.4 or more.

The changes received a mixed reaction within the county, with some fearing the impact of the tougher restrictions on already isolated people.

The Bishop of Oxford, Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, said: “Saturday’s sombre news of rising infections and very severe Tier 4 restrictions across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Tier 2 in Oxfordshire, will be a blow to so many of us and will likely result in a severe curtailment of Christmas plans.

“Christmas isn’t cancelled but there will be those in every place who will be further isolated by the new restrictions.

“I urge everyone, of all faiths and none, to reach out and connect, whether that be via the internet or over the phone, with those they know are facing isolation and crisis.

“Local churches stand ready and we want to reassure people that they are not alone.

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“At this time of year, let us remember that we are celebrating the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness will not and cannot overwhelm it.”

Oxford Mail: Piers Corbyn speaking at a demonstration in Oxford, to protest against coronavirus lockdown restrictions.Piers Corbyn speaking at a demonstration in Oxford, to protest against coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

Dr Croft added that many parishes will be streaming services across the festive period and people should visit their church website for more information.

Some churches are taking bookings for services to limit numbers.

Twitter user Darren Bull said his Christmas plans had been affected, saying: “My elderly parents are now stuck alone for Christmas with all their food and gifts with me 100 miles way. They should never have relaxed restrictions the first time around.”

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Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran said the Government should have acted sooner.

She said: “The tightening of the Christmas rules will come as a real disappointment, but I’m glad the Government is following the science and trying to control the spread.

“We needed to see this much earlier, however. U-turning at this late stage will do no favours for people’s trust in the Government, which is vital.

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“I urge everyone to follow the rules and suppress the virus. We all want to see our loved ones this Christmas, but to avoid more restrictions for longer, we must all play our part.”

The public is advised not to travel into a Tier 4 area, with the new restrictions set to last for two weeks, being reviewed on December 30.

Despite fears of the new strain of coronavirus, Piers Corbyn – the brother of former Labour leader Jeremy – led a demonstration in Oxford city centre yesterday to speak out against the tough new restrictions.

Brandishing a megaphone, he joined a so-called ‘Oxford 4 Freedom’ protest in Bonn Square.

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Although Oxfordshire has escaped being placed in the tougher tier 4 restrictions, whereby residents cannot mix indoors with anyone not from their household, there was still a warning for the county’s pubs.

Dave Richardson, spokesman for Oxford CAMRA, said: “Pubs continue to suffer a huge drop in business although those serving food can still stay open, despite jumping through every hoop they have been faced with – the latest example being the introduction of ‘drinkers’ menus’ allowing you to have a drink while staying within the regulations.

“Yet at no time since the pandemic started has the Government come up with data to prove that pubs are the source of more than a tiny percentage of infections, as they have introduced a Covid-safe environment that is very much more secure than people drinking together in their own homes – a likely cause of more infections when they can’t drink in a pub.

“The pub industry is warning that up to 40 per cent won’t last until spring without extra financial support tailored especially for them.

“There are pubs in Oxford and around our branch that haven’t reopened since being forced to close in March, and we are very worried about their future.”