Allowing households to mix could prove costly. People should proceed with care, finding safer ways to celebrate where possible
“Call off Christmas.” That three-word, ad-libbed flourish elevated Alan Rickman’s Sheriff of Nottingham to the pantheon of classic movie villains. This is a country where tree decorations can appear for sale in August. The discussion over what will happen this winter seems to have lasted almost as long. No politician – least of all Boris Johnson – would relish cancelling festivities as Oliver Cromwell once did.
After a hard year, and a second lockdown, many people long for even the illusion of normality, and for the chance to be with those they love and have seen much less of than usual. Some relish the news that the UK’s Covid-19 restrictions will be loosened, with up to three households allowed to mix for a five-day period.
A family gathering at Christmas may be an important boost to mental health and morale. But scientists have already warned that allowing different generations to mix indoors for long periods of time, at a time when levels of infection are still high, is likely to undo hard-won gains, leading to tighter restrictions in January and potentially a third wave of the virus. The rush to travel over such a short period could also overwhelm the transport system.
The special dispensation will, understandably, grate for those who were unable to celebrate festivals such as Eid or Diwali. Others, who find Christmas a time of stress or isolation rather than joy, may feel that the time to ditch the idealisation of the day is overdue. The large numbers bereaved by Covid-19 may find the fixation on this holiday tone-deaf at best and “sheer madness” at worst. And while people will weigh up the risks for themselves and those they love, they should remember that their decisions may well affect those they subsequently meet too.
The positive aspect is that all four nations have agreed upon the way forward, and that these are clear, understandable rules which will be easier to comprehend and follow than the tangle of previous injunctions. They should now be accompanied by encouragement to have a safe and low-key Christmas.
The message from government should be clear: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Nicola Sturgeon has already urged people to stay within their own household if possible. The public have often proved more cautious than leaders in this pandemic: in a Savanta ComRes survey taken before the measures were announced, 30% of people wanted no relaxation of restrictions, and only 17% wanted five days or more, while 65% wanted either no festive bubbles or a two-household restriction.
Recommendations from the group of scientists known as Independent Sage encourage alternative solutions. Communal outdoor celebrations could draw in those often excluded at this time of year, making a virtue of necessity. Those who do gather indoors should keep their distance and ensure that rooms are well ventilated.
No one’s heart lifts at the prospect of a Zoom Christmas dinner. But why risk spreading infection when the end of the worst is now in sight thanks to advances in both vaccines and treatment? Caution and a little creativity would be wise. Have yourself a merry Christmas by all means – but a merry little one would be ideal.