Scottish Government urged to agree coronavirus 'ceasefire' on Christmas Day

The Bishop of Paisley has called for an easing of restrictions on Christmas Day amid warnings of a “digital Christmas”.

The idea of a normal Christmas is a "fiction" and Scots should prepare for digital celebrations, national clinical director Jason Leitch has said. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The idea of a normal Christmas is a "fiction" and Scots should prepare for digital celebrations, national clinical director Jason Leitch has said. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Earlier this week, national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch said large family gatherings were unlikely to be held on the holiday due to the prevalence of coronavirus in Scotland.

John Keenan, who also serves as the vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said strict restrictions on Christmas gatherings run “the risk of destroying all hope”.

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Father John Keenan of Paisley

While he conceded that Prof Leitch was trying to manage expectations, Mr Keenan wrote in the Sunday Times: “No one wants a digital Christmas.

“Squashing false expectations is one thing, but no one wants to dampen people’s hopes.”

The bishop asked if there could be a 24-hour “circuit-breaker” put in place on December 25, comparing it with the ceasefire on the Western Front during the First World War.

He said: “Perhaps we should consider a Christmas ‘circuit-breaker’. A 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations, a break in the war on Covid, just like the pause in the First World War on the Western Front in 1914, when the British and German troops laid down their guns and met in no man’s land to celebrate Christmas.”

National clinical director Jason Leitch

He added: “Couldn’t we allow for one day of normality in the midst of our relentless war against the virus?

“Think of the hope and happiness that would give. A moment of joy in the midst of so much despair.

The bishop also said that “great care” would have to be taken to protect the vulnerable and the elderly, but raised the risk of “emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness at what should be the happiest time of year”.

He continued: “The effects of a depressed and isolated Christmas could be devastating for many, leaving an emotional and social legacy that no vaccine could cure.

“Flattening the curve of infection rates has been a laudable goal of government policy this year. Rather than flatten the curve of hope, let’s lift our spirits with the prospect of a merry Christmas and happy new year.”

Prof Leitch told BBC Scotland earlier this week there was "absolutely no question" of a "normal" Christmas being allowed.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Decisions on whether to introduce additional protective measures will continue to be guided by the latest available scientific and clinical evidence and informed by a balanced ‘four harms’ assessment.

"We understand that people will naturally be anxious about whether they will be able to visit relatives over the festive period.

“The new levels approach we announced this week, if approved by the Scottish Parliament, will enable us to adapt our response to coronavirus more effectively.

"The more we do now to supress transmission of the virus, the more likely we will have fewer restrictions in place at Christmas.

"However, given the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic, it is simply not possible to predict at this stage what restrictions may or may not be required over the Christmas and New Year holiday period.”

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