The Government has decided to make exceptions to COVID-19 restrictions for Christmas. They believe this is the right decision to take, but not everyone agrees.
During the days leading up to and after 25 December, families will be permitted to bubble up with two other households to celebrate Christmas. From 23 to 27 December 2020, the Government and Devolved Administrations will lift restrictions to allow people to form “exclusive” Christmas bubbles.
Each bubble can comprise no more than three households. People may travel “between tiers” and UK nations to meet their respective bubbles. Also, they can also meet up in private homes and gardens, places of worship, or public outdoor spaces. Christmas Day services will be allowed to go ahead too.
What do government officials and experts say?
Despite the decision being official, there are disagreements as to whether this risk should be taken. In this regard, Boris Johnson said: “In a period of adversity, time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none.”
In a recent coronavirus news briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the coronavirus was “back under control”, remarking “the light of dawn is on the horizon”, thereby suggesting the plan to lift restrictions over the Christmas period is a sensible decision.
However, not everyone is of the same view. Back in October, the former government advisor on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), Professor Neil Ferguson said the decision on whether to lift restrictions for Christmas would be a “political judgement”. He added “it risks transmission and there will be consequences”, so the pros and cons would need to be weighed.
Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor and Clinical Virologist at the University of Leicester, has a similar view. According to Dr Tang relaxing “too much at Christmas” would “risk a third wave” in January 2021. Therefore, it is important to “restrain ourselves” this Christmas.
Facts and figures: is it really a sensible decision?
With winter comes the annual seasonal flu, and coronavirus will add even more pressure on the National Health Service (NHS). When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK with its first wave, medical experts warned of a worse second one in winter.
It seems a rather perturbing decision to allow Christmas festivities to go ahead as near to normal. But do the facts and figures justify weariness to lift restrictions?
As of 5 December 2020, the UK has had another 15,539 cases of COVID-19. Furthermore, on the same day, a total of 397 new deaths from COVID-19 were recorded, adding to a total of 69,752 deaths. This is similar to what we were seeing during the first wave of the pandemic.
There is a difference between then and now, with the first batches of the Pfizer vaccine currently being dispensed. Although, this may not mean that we have an immediate cure to our problems.
Whilst the UK’s approval of the newly produced Pfizer vaccine may herald the end of the pandemic, the deployment and administration of the first set of doses will take time. It should also be considered that one dose per person will not offer security to curb transmission. According to experts, the vaccine’s effectiveness depends on two doses being given 21 days apart from each other. This would take us well past the short period when restrictions are being lifted for Christmas.
However, this is just one issue.
The UK government has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for 20 million people. The first 80,000 doses will be administered in the next few weeks, however, it will be a mammoth task to store and distribute it around the UK. Allowing people to move relatively freely for five days while all that is happening may be risky, especially at a time when coughs and colds are so prevalent.
From a safety point of view, it does seem like lifting restrictions may be dangerous. However, perhaps a greater issue would be that of unfairness.
Is the decision inconsistent?
It’s clear the coronavirus crisis isn’t so different over this Christmas period than it was over the period in which Easter, Eid ul Fitr, Eid ul Adha, and Diwali were being celebrated. Yet people were asked to adapt their celebrations this year, with congregations banned and smaller-scale festivities recommended. For the second Eid festival, Muslims were expected to make last-minute rearrangements, for which the government received extreme backlash.
This does appear to seem divisive. For a government that, over the past several months, has shown utter contempt for groups like small business owners, along with making U-turns on key issues and refusing to acknowledge rules being broken within their own party, special treatment isn’t unexpected from the government.
Special treatment means inconsistency, and inconsistency engenders mistrust, giving rise to dissent. Already, there have been anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown protests, with people demanding their freedoms to be respected. The government’s seemingly arbitrary changes to rules serve only to strengthen the protestors’ credibility.
People do deserve a break, but probably more from the governments mixed-messaging and divisive decisions, than anything else.