Voices: We should all be scrapping ‘superspreader’ Christmas

·3-min read
‘It isn’t worth it – Granny won’t be back next year’  (PA)
‘It isn’t worth it – Granny won’t be back next year’ (PA)

OK, call me Scrooge if you want (and as matter of fact I always did think he had a point about productivity in a competitive economy), but I have to say that I’m not looking forward to Christmas.

Obviously we all enjoy the fine turkey lunch, some nice bubbly, the indigestion and the annual treat that is the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas special, but really…? With our delightful new acquaintance, Omicron, out and about looking for victims like a ghoul? It is a huge act of collective self-harm. We might as well rename Christmas Day “Saturday Superspreader Day”.

If you wanted to engineer the ultimate superspreader event, then Christmas Day would be it. Generations, old and young, gathered together in close proximity, with no social distancing, no ventilation, and so drunk they’ve blissfully forgotten all about hands, face and space and a pre-visit lateral flow test? No thanks.

Not to mention people traversing the country, using public transport and motorway services, to give Omicron a lift to those few parts of the kingdom where it’s not yet taken a deadly hold. Going to the pub or to church. Singing. Dancing. Snogging. Dear oh dear.

Omicron will think all its Christmasses have come at once. The spike will arrive in a week or two, boosting the current exponential growth still further – and it will break the NHS. It isn’t worth it. Granny won’t be back next year.

We ought to be quite clear about this. The one thing we know for sure about Omicron is that it’s very easy to catch. Another thing to know is that it can make you very ill indeed, and it will kill some people – and it’s no good saying that they were old or fat anyway, because this isn’t Logan’s Run.

Thanks to the brilliant “gloomy”, “doomsday” scientists that many Tory MPs live to hate, we also now know that it seems Omicron causes a “milder” illness than the Delta variant.

Apparently it seems to hang out in your throat, rather than get down into your lungs and mess them up – or, rather, it’s less likely to do that. Again, you may still need a few days in hospital to prevent you from death or disability. Some will still be unlucky.

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So, the fact remains that with a huge number of infections – that much is also plain from data – even the small percentage of people who are seriously ill and in need of a hospital bed will cause a huge strain on the NHS.

Hospitals are already suffering from a chronic shortage of staff, and the pressure on ambulance services and GP surgeries is also breaking the health service. Non-Covid patients will fall even further behind – and we should have used the relative lull in the autumn to keep some restrictions, such as masks, and push Delta even further down, so as to create the capacity we know we need.

Even “mild” Omicron (ie the sort with which you can breathe unassisted) is reducing staffing levels on the wards. It will do the same across the NHS support infrastructure, and its supply lines. This is bad, avoidable, and could be ameliorated with some sensible public health measures – even at this late stage.

We could easily reintroduce the rule of six, for example, and (more widely) in England copy the restrictions coming into place in Scotland and Wales in the run-up to the New Year. This is no time for a party.

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