Why The Government's Christmas Coronavirus Rules Are (Almost) Irrelevant

Chris York
·Senior Editor, HuffPost UK
·6-min read

Christmas has been saved. Sort of.

Over the weekend, plans to relax coronavirus restrictions “for a small number of days” were revealed, to let households mix a bit more freely across the UK during the festive period.

But while the exact details are yet to be announced, one thing is for certain – coronavirus hasn’t gone away.

In other words, all the government is really doing is giving people the freedom to take more risks if they want to.

Similarly, for some, the fact that something is or isn’t legal won’t stop them doing it if they want to enough.

HuffPost UK spoke to seven different people about their plans for Christmas. And while they all varied considerably, not one was basing their decision on what the government says we can or can’t do.

The centenarian

Lara Smith’s grandmother will be 100 years old on December 13. She lives independently but is looked after by Lara’s mother.

“My mother has already said that even if the government rules allow, she will not let my gran see any family other than herself for her birthday or at Christmas,” says Lara.

“She might not be around next Christmas and I would happily buy full PPE so that I could go and see her, or even sit outside her window to say hello. But no, my mum wouldn’t allow that either.

″I respect her decision but it’s very difficult.”

<strong>Lara Smith (right), with her mother and grandmother (centre).</strong> (Photo: Lara Smith)
Lara Smith (right), with her mother and grandmother (centre). (Photo: Lara Smith)

The irresponsible relatives

Lucy is 29 and lives in Leicester with her fiancé. In a normal year she would have a large family Christmas dinner with 10 or so relatives.

But some of their behaviour during the pandemic this year has made her think twice about seeing them next month.

“My niece and nephew were sent home from school because someone tested positive for Covid and then their parents got Covid,” she says.

“They were seeing friends, and the grandparents were still babysitting – they’ve been so irresponsible. It’s all been a bit of a hot mess.

“I feel like the choice of what we do at Christmas has been taken away from us. I’m just pissed off and angry.”

The vulnerable son

Rebecca hasn’t seen her son since March and will not see him at Christmas regardless of the rules. He has severe learning difficulties and she feels “the risks are too high”.

“In March he was 5ft7ins, and now he’s four inches taller than me. It’s really hard. He can’t talk so I can’t speak to him on the phone,” she adds.

“Everyone is going to spend it separately. It’s just one day, let’s just get through this and then we can spend more time together in the future.”

The vulnerable father

Yvonne and Tom Oulton live in Buxton and haven’t yet decided if they will see their daughter Lucy and son Nick.

“I’m a 69-year-old cystic fibrosis patient and you won’t hear that very often,” says Tom.

“My lungs are pretty knackered already and if I catch this thing it will finish me off so it’s quite important I don’t get it.

“Even if Lucy does come up, she’ll have to isolate for a couple of weeks and so on, so it will be a pain for her and interfere with her life even more.”

Tom and Yvonne Oulton  (Photo: Lucy Oulton )
Tom and Yvonne Oulton (Photo: Lucy Oulton )

Yvonne adds: “Until the vaccine is administered I don’t think anyone can be sure they’re going to be safe.”

The scientist’s view

Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said on Monday that meeting people indoors would not come without risks.

With infection levels “higher than we would wish” across the UK, it provides an opportunity for Covid-19 to spread and people could be particularly concerned for older relatives.

She told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “Many of us would wish to see our older relatives at Christmas, and we know that mortality from Covid-19 is significantly higher for older people – I think around 86% of deaths in hospital occurred in people over the age of 65 – so this is concerning.

“At the moment we still have levels of infection in the community across the UK that are higher than we would wish.

“If we come together with people from different households at the time of year when the windows are closed, the people you care about, physical distancing is difficult. It is an opportunity for the virus to spread, so this is really really tough.”

The (potential) rule breakers

Not everyone has made the decision to avoid family gatherings at Christmas. Gracie and Sophie Tyrrell are going to spend the festive season with their parents even if it means being fined.

“To stop families seeing each other at Christmas is just crazy,” says Gracie.

“I do understand that this is a pandemic and people are dying but we are going to take strict precautions so that we’re all OK.

“I just don’t think they can stop people. It’s just my Mum and Dad, me and my sister and our partners, a relatively small family so we don’t see the harm in it.

“I really hope they don’t cancel Christmas but I don’t think they can because so many people will be in the same boat. We’re going to see each other whatever happens and if that means being fined then, yeah, we would take the fine.”

Gracie (right) and Sophie Tyrrell. (Photo: Gracie & Sophie Tyrrell)
Gracie (right) and Sophie Tyrrell. (Photo: Gracie & Sophie Tyrrell)

The summer Christmas

Nicola Shelton and her husband normally have an elongated Christmas that involves seeing friends and family across the country with a series of restaurant meals capped off by a big New Year’s Eve party at home in Liverpool.

This year, they have decided to postpone all of it until the summer.

“My husband is clinically extremely vulnerable and he would only have a 50% chance of survival if he caught pneumonia.

“But he’s not on his way out and given how close we are to the vaccine, we’d be far better to postpone Christmas and have it on July 25. Anything we did this year would be so risky that it would always be tinged with fear.

“It doesn’t matter what the government has to offer.

“I can understand people who want to see family who might not have much time left. But for us, there’s going to be next Christmas too.”

The trade off no one wants

Katy Speeds, 43, is classed as clinically vulnerable and has decided against spending time with her family this Christmas.

“We are sentimental about Christmas but with my health and my parents getting older, is it really worth the risk for a few hours of eating a roast dinner?” she asked.

“Is it worth your Christmas dinner only to have a funeral in January?”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.