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  • Leah Campbell

Covid Christmas parties: timeline of government’s alleged festivities

Downing Street is facing renewed pressure after TV footage emerged showing senior No 10 officials joking about a Christmas party during lockdown last December.

In the leaked video, obtained by ITV, an adviser to Johnson is seen joking with Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s then press secretary, about “a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night”.

The footage was shot on 22 December 2020. The Friday before was 18 December, the date on which multiple sources have said there was a staff party inside Downing Street, which would have contravened strict Covid regulations in place at the time. Boris Johnson and his aides have repeatedly denied that a lockdown Christmas staff party broke Covid rules or took place at all.

Here is a timeline of the events and coronavirus restrictions:

2 December

More than half of the population of England, including those living in London, are moved into “high alert” tier 2 lockdown restrictions. Households mixing indoors is banned, and the rule of six applies outdoors including in gardens and public spaces.

10 December

Then education secretary Gavin Williamson holds a Christmas party for up to two dozen staff at the Department of Education cafe.

A Department for Education spokesperson confirmed a report that Williamson gave a short speech before officials and ministers enjoyed “drinks and canapes” at the evening event, adding: “Looking back we accept it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time.”

16 December

Boris Johnson urges the public to severely limit the length and scale of gatherings over the Christmas period. “A smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas,” he tells a Downing Street press conference. London is moved into tier 3 – at the time the toughest coronavirus restrictions – meaning the only permitted indoor social mixing outside your own household was with a support bubble.

18 December

The date on which a staff party is allegedly held inside Downing Street. Testimony from many sources says No 10 staff held a party with a Secret Santa, refreshments and games. About “40 or 50” people are said to have been crammed “cheek by jowl” into a medium-sized room, the Mirror reported last week.

Government guidance at the time stated: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”

19 December

Johnson announces that a planned relaxation of the rules across England will not go ahead, effectively cancelling Christmas for millions of people across London, the south-east and east of England. At a No 10 briefing, the PM says: “We’re sacrificing the chance to see loved ones so we have a better chance of protecting their lives.”

21 December

Tier 4 restrictions come into force in London and the south-east of England, meaning people must stay at home and are only allowed to leave for specific purposes or if they have a “reasonable excuse”. People are forbidden from mixing indoors with anyone from outside their household and can only meet one person outdoors. The rest of England was only permitted to mix in bubbles of up to three households on just Christmas Day.

22 December

A mock televised press briefing is held in which an adviser to Johnson is seen joking with Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s then press secretary, about “a Downing Street Christmas party on Friday night”. The Friday before the briefing would have been 18 December, the day the party is alleged to have taken place.

26 December

More areas of England enter tier 4 restrictions.

4 January

Johnson says children should return to school after their Christmas break, but warns restrictions could tighten.

6 January

England enters its third national lockdown. It is not until 21 June that all legal limits on social contact are removed.

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