"It's not sensible" having 2,000 rugby fans at Northampton's Boxing Day game, warns health chief

"We've been told Christmas needs to be small so we should apply that logic to most things over the holidays"

Health chiefs fear Northampton Saints' Boxing Day match could help tip the county into a higher tier of Covid restrictions.

Northamptonshire remained in Tier Two under the Government's winter plan last week allowing Saints to have up to 2,000 fans in Franklin's Gardens for the Premiership Rugby clash with Worcester.

But the county's Director of Public Health warns any large gatherings are "not sensible."

Lucy Wightman said: "We've said it before that just because you can do something does not mean that you should, particularly in light of this new strain of coronavirus and the fact it spreads so rapidly.

"At the moment, I don't think any large gatherings are sensible.

"We've already been warned that Christmas needs to be as small as possible and as local as possible. I would suggest that we should be applying that logic to most of the things that we were considering doing over this festive period."

Northamptonshire's neighbours Bedford, Milton Keynes and Peterborough were all put into Tier Four on Sunday, shutting non-essential shops and forcing people to stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

Health director Lucy Wightman fears 2,000 fans at Saints Boxing Day clash with Worcester is "not sensible"

Leicestershire and Warwickshire remain in Tier Three.

Experts decided to keep Northamptonshire in the lower tier as a "high risk" area during last week's review but Mrs Wightman warned that could change at very short notice if the number of positive tests continue to rise.

Northamptonshire has seen more than 1,500 positive swabs in the last seven days but the rolling rate per 100,000 remains lower than neighbouring areas.

Northampton saw a 14.7 per cent increase in cases in the week to December 15 while cases more than doubled in both Milton Keynes and Bedford.

Government figures show how Northampton compares to neighbouring areas already in Tier Three and Four

Mrs Wightman added: "I think it is something to be very proud of that we've remained a tier two area for as long as we have, especially considering we are now surrounded by Tier Three and now Tier Four areas.

"But our numbers are unfortunately going in the wrong direction, partly because of geography but also clearly since lockdown a lot of activity shopping and going out eating, drinking.

"Certainly Northamptonshire is one of the areas of concern, South Northamptonshire in particularly has seen a very rapid spike in cases in the last few days."

"Tier reviews are due to take place every fortnight but the Government has been very clear that if they see any areas are increasing particularly at rapid rate in light of new virus strain they will step in and take action if they feel the need to do so."