Ending weeks of speculation, the combined administrations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have come together to announce plans that will relax coronavirus restrictions and allow families to spend Christmas together.
Under the new rules, three households can mix for five days over the festive period between the 23rd and the 27th of December.
Yet, far from bringing people together, the topic of what should and shouldn’t be allowed at Christmas has divided opinions further. The ‘C word’ is THE hot topic of conversation, with arguments for and against coming out in force.
Some are ecstatic at the thought of a near-normal Christmas with family and friends, albeit a slightly scaled-back version. Others feel it will undo weeks of sacrifice and lead to tougher times in January.
So, should Christmas be cancelled? Here, we look at the arguments for and against and examine whether Christmas, as we know it, will and should be another casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Clauses of Christmas
Firstly, it’s useful to go over the ‘clauses of Christmas’ – what we can and can’t do.
The plan to save Christmas is based on families and friends who live in up to three different houses forming a ‘festive bubble’. Within a three-house group, people can mix freely with one another both indoors and outdoors, as well as at places of worship. There is no limit to the number of people as long as they live in just three households.
Travel restrictions will be lifted for the five days, with those making a journey to Northern Ireland given an extra day either side of the window for travel purposes.
A three-house group will have to be exclusive over the five days. People will not be able to move between one three-household bubble to another, as it’s proposed this will limit the opportunity for virus transmission.
Bubbles will not be allowed to mix in hospitality settings either, meaning that a Christmas Eve trip to the pub or dinner out on Christmas Day will be off limits for most.
It’s worth remembering that the rules may also differ according to the new regional tiered system announced on Thursday 26th November.
The dangers and difficult decisions
Medical experts and scientists have criticised the plans as an unnecessary risk that could lead to more deaths and put hospitals under strain in January, one of the busiest months.
Some have even gone as far to warn that for every day restrictions are lifted; another five days of harsher measures will be needed afterwards.
One of the main problems with the Christmas plans is that time spent indoors can increase the risk of transmission. One of the ways COVID-19 is spread is through the air and scientists now openly acknowledge the role played by aerosols – tiny respiratory droplets that remain suspended in the air when exhaled by an infected person.
With alcohol flowing and inhibitions down, it’s also less likely that people will follow the good hygiene practices that are necessary to stop the spread of disease.
Mixing generations, young people who can carry the virus without symptoms and elderly people who are very at risk, is another concern.
And from a relationship perspective, the limitations on the number of households allowed to mix will lead to some difficult decisions on just which family and friends to spend Christmas with.
Mental Health Vs Physical Health
One of the main arguments for the Christmas window is to offset the toll coronavirus is taking on people’s mental health – especially those living alone and feeling isolated.
It’s hoped that giving people the go-ahead to mix (even if it’s just a very short time) will provide some relief for families and friends who have suffered due to being separated this year.
Others have the view that easing restrictions now will help people to deal with tough times in January and February.
What steps can be taken to reduce risk?
As always, good hygiene, washing hands, social distancing and wearing a face-covering are the main ways to protect yourself and others against coronavirus.
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If you’re spending a lot of time indoors mixing, then good ventilation is also essential to prevent a build-up of aerosols. One tip is to move the party from room to room opening windows and doors in the vacant room while you spend time elsewhere or going out for a walk in the fresh air.
It’s certain that Christmas 2020 won’t be the same as any we’ve ever experienced before. Whether you choose to spend Christmas alone or with a group of others, the most important thing to remember is not to let your guard down. Christmas may be the season of joy and togetherness but in the words of the Prime Minister, in 2020 ‘Tis the season to be jolly careful.’