STEP INTO CHRISTMAS... AND THEN RIGHT BACK OUT AGAIN
Are the new coronavirus measures doing more harm than good?
By Lily Owen / 9 December 2020
Illustration by Lena Blacker
Walking the streets around my home town, it is a comforting sight to see Christmas trees lighting up people’s windows. The jingle of Christmas songs on the radio has us singing louder and the taste of mulled wine seems sweeter, as the festive season prepares us for an escape from the boredom and depression of 2020 and the pandemic that has defined it.
It is, after all, the most wonderful time of the year and so what else has a better chance of cheering us all up right now? Not to put a downer on the festivities, but we all know (despite trying to forget) that this Christmas cheer is likely to come at a cost. Up to three households will be able to bubble up from the 23rd to the 27th of December, yet teasing the nation with ‘5 days of Christmas’ comes as a package deal with a very probable ’25 days (at least) of lockdown’ in January. Dr Susan Hopkins, Medical Director of Test and Trace, initially told Downing Street that for every day of relaxation over the Christmas period, two days of tighter restrictions would be required to compensate. Now, Public Health England has corrected this to be five days. Hopkins’ briefing angered a lot of anti-lockdown Conservative MPs, arguing that “freedom cannot just be for Christmas”, with cases now beginning to drop. Not to be branded as a Scrooge here, but I agree.
I love Christmas just as much as the next person: shopping for presents, meeting up with family, cooking dinner, stuffing your face full of Quality Street, and I am not ashamed to say that my Christmas tree went up on the 25th of November! But let’s face it, you can still enjoy the majority of these things within a singular household. No one could deny any one the pleasure of treating yourself that little extra this year: something that the Tesco Christmas ad humorously embraces. However, as much as this holiday always serves as a joyful boost in the dark and depressing Winter season, its effects never last long beyond the New Year anyway. Every year, the third Monday of January is dubbed as ‘Blue Monday’ – you’re cold, you haven’t stuck to your New Year’s resolutions and are struggling with Dry Jan, it’s rubbish. So are we really prepared to add the extra downer of a further lockdown to that mess? Apparently, Boris turned Christmas elf and ‘saviour’ has decided yes.
The result is almost identical across parties and demographics. Rather surprisingly, older voters were shown to prefer a Christmas lockdown: the generation for who this relaxation can be argued as mostly catering towards. Allowing children to see their grandparents and, in some cases, residents of care homes to spend time with family is lovely, but where greater groups are now allowed to mix, care home residents over the age of 65 are not allowed to see a single familiar face in the flesh. Surely the main issue is that no one should have to spend Christmas alone and that is why the creation of support bubbles is fundamental. There are other Christmases to come for most of us, but for Dementia or Alzheimer suffers being kept inside and who struggle to interact online, there might not be. Rather than the three household rule, why can’t, for these five days, everyone be granted some contact, albeit in smaller groups? This isn’t being allowed “because of the risks”, but with scientists naming a typical Christmas gathering at home as the type of environment where infections can spread, I’d say this entire operation is in the name of overlooking risk.
Christmas this year is the dangling carrot before we are hit with the stick of lockdown 3.0 – and don’t forget about Brexit and the bigger picture of Britain in the midst of a breakdown of its ‘United Kingdom’. This increasing division between the north and south, young and old, upper-middle and lower classes is not the most festive one, so, when in a crisis, why not throw in a few days of ignorant bliss? Except, this isn’t the first time the government has teased us with a sense of ‘normality’. Remember pubs? Remember summer holidays abroad, sit down gigs, Eat Out to Help Out? That was the beginning of the end, or so we thought, and look where we are now. If Boris Johnson and his advisers think that they can relax more rules, only to enforce even tighter ones in the New Year, then they have learned nothing from last time. Watching the cabinet squirm and fluster over trying to resume some sort of order come the 28th December might be the best Christmas present worth waiting for if it wasn’t for the staggering number of lives at stake.
In this desperate attempt to ‘save Christmas’ – a Christian or, arguably, now a Capitalist holiday for many – we also cannot forget how nothing so drastic was made in an effort to save Eid or Rosh Hashanah. Mariam Khan rightly asks us to “Imagine Christmas Eve, the food shop is done, the presents wrapped under the tree, families have come together or are in the process, excitement is bubbling over and then the Government announces two hours before Christmas Day that families can no longer come together.” This is exactly what happened the night before Eid and there is still no explanation or justification for the lateness of this notice. Restrictions were re-imposed in West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and East Lancashire, with the greatest percentage of Muslims in England living in the north-west and Yorkshire. The rule of six was not revisited or relaxed for the Jewish community either, with many of their traditions over the three-week period of the Days of Awe becoming impossible under the circumstances.
Just because Muslim and Jewish people missed out on their recent holiday does not mean that Christians should have their Christmas confiscated, treating them like squabbling children who can’t be happy for one other’s opportunities without succumbing to a jealous rage.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to deny that this government does not appear to have a favourite child when it comes to forward planning and making exceptions – especially when their holiday involves a lot of heavy spending that benefits the economy. MP Mark Harper rightly admits that “Saying to families, you can have a reasonably normal family Christmas, but then putting restrictions in place which may impact their livelihoods, I don't think is going to be a very welcome Christmas present,”. It is safe to say that no one has COVID-19 on their wish list to Santa this year, but that might be exactly what a lot of people get. Just as you can still catch COVID after 10 pm when the pubs close, or by remaining seated at a table, you can still catch COVID this Christmas, despite the illusion of being able to ‘relax’.
There is no perfect solution and the government knows it: if they were to even try to attempt to continue lockdown over December, it is safe to say that they would be totally undermined by those that have it set in their minds to visit family, regardless of the advice. These measures are a way to gain favour, to play the ‘cool’ auntie or uncle who treats you behind mum and dad’s back (A.K.A, the Scientific advice). But, as always, you take the treats (travel, mixing) and run with it, only to come crawling back to your disapproving parents that knew you’d make yourself sick. Don’t be fooled by thinking that a smaller Christmas has to be a miserable one. Sometimes, it might be better to listen to the boring advice and then maybe we won’t all be feeling so guilty when it comes to the New Year.
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