Millions of people across the UK have seen their festive plans severely restricted or scrapped due to new Tier 4 restrictions.
Updated on 21 December: To Christmas or not to Christmas? Sadly, it seems that it will be the latter for most people this year.
On Saturday 19 December, Boris Johnson effectively cancelled Christmas gatherings for millions of people in London and surrounding areas as he announced that all of those areas previously in Tier 3 in the South East would move to the new Tier 4.
This hasn’t just signaled the closure of non-essential shops, gyms, and hairdressers: people have also been ordered to stay home – which means that they will not be able to spend time with their friends and family over the Christmas period.
The announcement came amid fears of a new coronavirus variant: as per the BBC’s report, around a quarter of cases in London were the new variant in November, and this reached nearly two-thirds of cases in mid-December.
This, in turn, has come alongside a spike in Covid-19 cases. As of Sunday 20 December, the number of recorded daily infections in the UK reached an all-time high of 35,928 new cases.
Yvonne Doyle, medical director at Public Health England, said: “This sharp and sudden increase is of serious concern.
“Most of the new cases reported today are concentrated in London and the South East, although it is too early to tell if this is linked to the new variant.”
Naturally, the news came as a severe blow to all those who were looking forward to spending time with loved ones over the holidays.
“Listening to It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and welling up over the washing up,” reads one tweet from Stylist’s Moya Crockett.
And another notes wryly: “We’ve been shut off like the plague rats we are.”
Perhaps the best response of all, though, was the one that popped up on this writer’s own Facebook feed.
“I think it’s OK to feel totally gutted and lucky in equal measures,” it reads. “These are really strange times and there’s a lot to contend with. Sending out love and wishes for a peaceful Xmas period.”
This post sums things up perfectly because, while some of us may be in reasonably privileged positions – we have our health and a roof over our heads, at the very least – it’s absolutely OK to feel sad about this utterly shit news. It’s OK to miss our families, it’s OK to miss our friends, and it’s more than OK to feel furious at the government for their handling of the situation.
And, at the same time, it’s also OK to feel as if… well, as if this will turn out to be a good thing, after all.
As reported on 20 November: The very thought of spending Christmas with loved ones has long divided the nation.
“Sorry, but HOW can it be so important to share mince pies with 15 overheated family members after a year of financial and mental damage to millions, when it will almost certainly mean a huge rise in infections and more months of lockdown?” tweeted one person.
“Can we not just…miss it for ONE year?”
“It seems offensive to all those losing loved ones to the virus as we speak. Those who won’t make it to the vaccine,” added another.
One more Twitter user noted: “It’s not really about us. It’s about those who are vulnerable and the stressed, overworked NHS. Why are we putting them at enhanced risk so we can have a blowout? It’s the epitome of selfishness.”
And many, like myself, were quick to point out that both Diwali and this year’s Eid al-Adha “feast of sacrifice” celebrations were cancelled due to strict lockdown measures.
“If we are living in a truly diverse society then why was it not relaxed for Eid or Diwali?” asked one.
However, there are just as many who have come forward to insist that Christmas absolutely should go ahead as normal – not just because we’ve been looking forward to it all year long, but because mental health issues and loneliness have the potential to be just as deadly as the coronavirus.
One countered: “Would you like to tell my father (widowed and had 3 strokes) and my mother in law (widowed) that they have to spend Christmas alone? There has to be some allowances.”
“You will end with a bigger mental health crisis than the one we already have,” agreed another.
One more issued a sobering reminder, writing: “Save Christmas! Some are not considering that if you don’t go ahead that for the terminally ill, they won’t get another one.”
And another insisted: “But we have a vaccine now! Why should we give up Christmas for no reason?”
I get it. Of course I do. But I can’t help wondering what the impact on mental health and loneliness might be if we are plunged into another 25-day lockdown in the shorter, darker days of January to make up for one big get together on the 25 December?
And, yes, there is talk of a vaccine. But, on 18 November, UK coronavirus cases grew by 19,609 while deaths rose by 529. The week before that, 22,950 new Covid cases were recorded in the UK along with 595 deaths.
And the week before that (4 November)? 25,177 people tested positive for the bug while 492 died.
Some have noted that the numbers are decreasing, ever so slightly, on a week by week basis. It’s worth noting, though, that this is most likely due to the fact that we are all currently in lockdown at the moment.
Indeed, as public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally warned Good Morning Britain viewers this week, just five days of jollity could lead to the virus spreading.
“There is no point in having a very merry Christmas and then burying friends and relations in January and February,” he said.
Perhaps, then, the best thing to do is think up new ways to stay connected and promote that feeling of togetherness over Christmas – while remaining apart?
For example, we could:
- Bundle up in woollies and meet someone for a walk in the park, if social distancing rules allow it.
- Schedule in regular calls and video calls with loved ones – there’s lots of apps and options out there for different phones and devices. And don’t forget the regular landline for relatives who might not be digital.
- Spend time together virtually, perhaps by watching films, playing board games, tackling a virtual escape room, or even having dinner together.
- Organise (don’t groan) a very special festive quiz or murder mystery.
- Phone loved ones for a chat before and after lunch.
- Make drive-by drop-offs of Christmas snacks, if you live in the same town.
- Set up a group chat on WhatsApp or Messenger and drop photos of our presents (and unusual festive setups) to our families from afar.
- Make plans to do something really special for next Christmas.
“For many people living on their own, away from their family and/or in shared accommodation (which includes me and a lot of my friends) Christmas is the thing we’ve been waiting for and working towards,” says Stylist’s Hollie Richardson, who adds that she feels the government has not addressed the needs of those living alone.
“But, ultimately, this is a year where we all have to make sacrifices because people are literally losing their lives.”
Christmas is, remember, more a state of mind than anything else – and it can be found in all the places you find love. So, while we may not be able to gather round a table together, or open presents under the same tree, or give our nans a hug, what we can do is make new traditions. We can find new ways to show our loved ones that we care and are thinking of them. And we can all use this as an excuse to schedule in another big celebration when it’s safe to do so.
Because, as Stylist’s Lauren Geall notes: “Do we really want to sacrifice all the time we’ve spent inside over the last month for one day? Could we not crown 2020 the year of the ‘micro-Christmas’ and spend our days enjoying time with family over Zoom?
“It’s heartbreaking to think that Christmas won’t be the same as normal (I, for one, am a massive Christmas fan), but the reality we’re facing if we do allow the virus to spread is even more devastating.”