One of the leading scientists advising the government on coronavirus said it will be a “political judgement” whether restrictions on households mixing should be relaxed over Christmas.

“It risks some transmission and there will be consequences of that," Professor Neil Ferguson told the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme earlier.

"Some people will die because of getting infected on that day.

“But if it is only one or two days the impact is likely to be limited.

"So that is really a political judgement about the cost versus the benefits.”

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The issue of Christmas has been a vexed one for the government as it seeks to curb growing numbers of cases and increases Tier 3 restrictions for millions of residents in the North West and South Yorkshire.

Family Christmases are likely to be very different this year

On the one hand, it is keen to allow families to enjoy the festive season, but on the other it wants to prevent the spread of coronavirus, as it rises exponentially throughout the UK.

Yesterday, Downing Street indicated that people may able to be able to celebrate "as a family" and Boris Johnson's spokesman said the PM has been "clear previously that he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back by Christmas."

But a more cautious note was sounded today by Prof Ferguson as he also warned that if restrictions on households mixing fail to stem the rise in coronavirus infections, then the government may have to close schools to older students.

"That [banning households mixing] should have a significant effect, but as yet we have been unable to see it definitively," he added.

"If we go beyond that there is a limit to what we can do in terms of reducing contacts, short of starting to target, for instance, the older years in schools and sixth form colleges, where we know older teenagers are able to transmit as adults."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson addresses the nation during a news conference

He said that "of course, nobody wants to start moving to virtual education and closing schools, even partially."

Prof Ferguson said that the NHS will be unable to cope if coronavirus cases continue to increase at the present rate.

Although infections in 18 to 21-year-olds are falling, they are continuing to rise in every other age group.

He described the "worrying situation", where we now have 8,000 people in hospital with Covid.

"That is about a third of the level we were at the peak of the pandemic in March", he added.

"If the rate of growth continues as it is, it means that in a month's time we will be above that peak in March and that is probably unsustainable."

He described the critical time we are at right now. "The health system will not be able to cope with this rate of growth for much longer."