Covid Christmas: Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson cannot please everyone as decision-time looms over festive lockdown – Kirsty Strickland

It’s a great pity that we can’t negotiate with Covid-19.

Santa Claus, or someone dressed as him, grabs a coffee in central Glasgow as he and the nation await to hear what kind of festivities will be allowed (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)
Santa Claus, or someone dressed as him, grabs a coffee in central Glasgow as he and the nation await to hear what kind of festivities will be allowed (Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

If tackling this virus was merely a case of putting forward an argument and debating its merits, we’d be the country for the job. After all, we’ve been in training for that since 2014.

Unfortunately, coronavirus takes no notice of logic, niceties or the seductive dance of deal-making. All it cares about is gaining access to poorly ventilated rooms crammed full of people.

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Which brings us to the Great Christmas Dilemma.

Our politicians now face the unenviable task of meeting two conflicting objectives and coming up with a plan that the public can get behind. After the misery of 2020, there is an understandable desire to have as normal a Christmas as possible. Yet, the pursuit of that normality could come at the cost of our most-wished for present: suppression of the virus.

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Politicians united

Christmas is less than five weeks away. Coronavirus has been with us for almost a year and – much like the rest of us – it is unlikely to head off somewhere nice for the holidays.

While there is disagreement over strategy, politicians from all parties are united in their wish to drive the prevalence of the virus low, minimise deaths and ensure that the tighter restrictions we have endured over the last few months have not been in vain.

As the big day nears, speculation is growing about how Christmas as we know it can go ahead, without risking the gains we have already made through our collective effort.

One of the suggestions being put forward is that for every one day of freedom and good cheer, we would face five days of tighter restrictions.

How that would work in practice is as yet unclear.

During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon said she hadn’t seen the data behind the proposal. Instead, she said her government would arrive at a ‘’safe and sensible’’ judgement after taking advice from the Chief Medical Officer and officials who she has tasked with bringing forward concrete proposals for Christmas. She said that she hoped she would be able to share those proposals with the public as soon as next week.

An obvious answer?

Whether they choose a four-nations approach or to go their own way, the Christmas conundrum is looming for both the Scottish and UK governments. How difficult you think it will be to find an answer depends very much on how complex a question you think it is in the first place.

For some, the answer seems an obvious one.

We have had it drilled into us that the only way to protect the NHS from becoming overwhelmed and minimise deaths is to follow the guidance on gatherings and household mixing. The idea that we could call a ceasefire with coronavirus to drink Baileys in the homes of our extended families seems ludicrous. And where was the uproar over all the other religious festivals that were changed beyond recognition this year because of restrictions on gatherings?

On the other hand, we know that the restrictions have had a significant impact on the mental health of the nation. Loneliness and isolation, particularly among older and vulnerable people, are exacerbated over the Christmas period.

And given that we had pub visits, household mixing and looser restrictions back in the summer, it is not unreasonable to assume that these last few months of tighter restrictions should have led to us enjoying more freedom over Christmas.

Starting new traditions

If I was to judge the best course of action based on nothing more than my own personal circumstances, I’d say we shouldn’t change guidance to fit in with a holiday. While I will miss the busyness of Christmas, a scaled-down celebration comes with its own rewards. After such a turbulent year, the idea of doing things a little bit differently is appealing. I’m abandoning my usual Christmas schedule, along with all the obligations that go with it. My daughter and I are planning to start new traditions, most of which involve minimal effort and lots of sugar.

But it’s not just people like me, who can stay home and face no hardship for doing so, that Nicola Sturgeon has to consider. What about those in care homes, who haven’t seen loved ones for months? Or the grandparents who fear that this Christmas could be their last? Or the key workers who have kept the country running and have been looking forward to some well-deserved respite?

However sensible it might be during a pandemic, a balance does need to be struck. If the rules are thought to be too restrictive, a sizeable number of people will ignore them. That would not only stoke resentment among those who do adhere to the rules, it would normalise rule-breaking and lead to reduced compliance over the rest of winter.

While we await a decision from government and the evidence from health officials that will underpin it, it would be unhelpful to frame our options as either a festive free-for-all or the total cancellation of Christmas.

‘Bah Humbug Boris’

Even the most moderate curtailment of Christmas freedoms is bound to bring about ‘Bah Humbug Boris’ or ‘Nic Cancels St Nick’ headlines but that doesn’t mean politicians should be fearful of the public reaction when making their decision.

Whatever the restrictions at the time, Christmas will still go ahead. No politician has the power to ‘cancel’ it, even if they wanted to.

I suspect that we will arrive at a solution that involves a limited extension of household bubbles. A middle-of-the-road position that will neither please those who think that infection rates should be our only consideration, nor those who rally against what they see as government interference in family life.

If nobody is entirely happy with the strategy, it probably means the government has got it about right. Just as there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas, it seems there is no perfect solution to the coronavirus Christmas problem.

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