Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but December 25 in 2020 will be unlike any other.
Boris Johnson’s government previously promised and just days ago in a joint-meeting with the three devolved UK administrations reiterated that Covid-guidelines would be relaxed to enable tens of millions of Britons to celebrate Christmas with three other households after an extraordinarily difficult year.
Nonetheless, with an extortionate increase in Covid-cases, notably in the south of England, the Times reported this morning that Boris Johnson would use his Downing Street press conference to announce a “u-turn” on the relaxation of Covid-rules in London, the South East and East of England.
And at 16:00 the Prime Minister reluctantly told the nation that “we cannot continue with Christmas as planned”.
“I know how disappointing this will be, but we have said throughout this pandemic that we must, and we will be guided by the science”, Johnson regretfully added.
Rather than a brief relaxation in Covid-restrictions, approximately 18 million people, from Sevenoaks to Southend and Brent to Broxbourne, will be plunged into the new tier 4 category. This will implore people by law to “stay at home”.
Nonetheless, nobody will be “Lonely This Christmas”, as those who have already formed support bubbles with single occupancy households are exempt from the ban on festive household mixing to ensure that nobody is “Home Alone”.
However, tomorrow’s frontpages will almost inevitably unleash a tirade of criticism at Number 10’s door, especially given Johnson told Sir Keir Starmer that he would not cancel Christmas on Wednesday.
But Boris, a man who has chased popularity since his university days, will probably be disheartened if he is compared to the Grinch in the Daily Star or Oliver Cromwell by unnamed Tory backbenchers the Telegraph.
Many backbenchers, including the one-time Conservative leadership hopeful and chair of the Covid Recovery Group, Mark Harper, have already started to express their grave concerns about the government’s pandemic programme.
However, the unforeseeable spread of this new mutant strain of coronavirus makes this decision, in contrast to the A-Level results day debacle, a proactive reaction to an unfortunate escalation in the nation’s struggle against this deadly disease and not another political miscalculation.
This afternoon’s press conference, where Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance accompanied the Prime Minister, will undoubtedly be remembered as a “Nightmare before Christmas”, however, I am surprisingly reassured by the government’s decision to set aside the short-term criticism that this “u-turn” will bring.
Despite the new coronavirus vaccine roll-out, the new strain of Covid-19 and potential complacency in the compliance with government guidelines have forced Number 10 to make this unenviable and challenging decision.
Unfortunately, creating an additional fourth tier will compound further Covid-induced economic ruination on to the English regions. However, a third lengthy national lockdown, and a subsequent spike in Covid-deaths that will inadvertently lead to Christmas-regret amongst those who risked seeing vulnerable family members, will not only lengthen the lockdown, it will add even more financial, health and mental difficulties on to the nation in the new year.
If people do not follow the updated guidance then I fear, as they visit some of the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, that a surge in cases in the new year will force the country into a third lockdown. But such a lockdown will also have profound economic consequences; consequences that the British economy may not be equipped to deal with.
So, with Britain on its final stretch in the fight against Covid-19 and with the mass roll-out of the vaccine in sight, maybe just maybe we could delay our Christmas celebrations for a few weeks, maybe months.
Here’s to “Christmas in July”.
By J Walters