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Christmas is on hold. The governments of the four nations of the United Kingdom are reviewing the proposed relaxation of their Covid restrictions over the holidays. A common policy had been agreed which allowed up to three households to be able to travel and meet up indoors between 23 and 27 December. Many understandably will want to be reunited with friends and loved ones over the Christmas period. But a rethink is needed. The more people who choose to meet, the greater the risk that infections will run out of control, leading to surge in hospital admissions and unnecessary deaths.
The danger of runaway Covid cases has been heightened because the “tiered” restrictions failed to make a significant dent in the daily coronavirus rates, as Downing Street’s scientific advisers foresaw. Parts of the country were put under more stringent conditions this week but the concern is that this won’t be enough to stem the tide. In a rare joint editorial, the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal warned that if current trends continue, even without the Christmas relaxation, there are likely to be 19,000 Covid patients in English hospitals by New Year’s Eve – the same as at the peak of the first wave in April.
The danger of a third wave of the pandemic in January is that it would leave NHS trusts facing an unpleasant choice of being overwhelmed or closing down. Data from the first wave suggested that because of interruptions to regular NHS services there was roughly one additional death for every Covid death. Therefore it would make sense, as former Conservative health secretary Jeremy Hunt and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer both suggest, to follow the more circumspect approach of Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, which have had second thoughts about easing restrictions over Christmas.
The virus has to be kept under control to avoid a national lockdown in January and to save lives and businesses. It is probably too late to shut down the country completely over Christmas and any attempt to do so would confuse the public. Scientists on the Independent Sage group were right to say that governments need to be explicit as to what the public should and should not do over Christmas. People can meet indoors, but unless they have very good reason they should not do so. Ministers ought to say that congregating outdoors is a safer option. There are families where relatives may not have many more Christmases left and for obvious reasons will want to be together inside. But these are exceptions. For the country’s sake, ministers ought make clear it would be better for most people to delay and meet up next year when it is safe to do so.
People will act sensibly as long as the government clearly explains the risks involved in taking different courses of action and also makes it clear it will provide the necessary support to communities, something often conspicuous by its absence in ministerial pronouncements. Mass testing is to be introduced in the classroom but there’s no sign of the cash needed to support it. Neither is there much evidence of the necessary functional extensive testing and tracing required to contain Covid-19. Polling suggests that almost half the nation agrees that coronavirus rules over Christmas need tightening. A vaccine rollout has taken the wind out of the Tory libertarian sail. People know that caring for somebody means not exposing them to the risk of infection. Ministers need a new policy that says loudly and clearly: in the midst of a pandemic, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The Guardian view on a Covid Christmas: better safe than sorry | Coronavirus