Government ministers have warned that festivities including Christmas, Bonfire Night and Diwali will not be “normal” this year – but it is unclear exactly what will be allowed.
As the patchwork of local lockdowns evolves in England and Scotland alongside national measures in Northern Ireland and Wales, the PA news agency considers what this means for celebrations.
– Is Christmas going to be cancelled?
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister pledged to do his “absolute best” to make sure families can meet on Christmas Day.
A post shared by UK Prime Minister (@10downingstreet) on Oct 24, 2020 at 6:33am PDT
Cabinet minister George Eustice reiterated this on Wednesday morning, telling LBC: “We want people to be able to live and have Christmas as close as possible to normal. It’s a really important family time.”
But both warned that restrictions will depend on people following social distancing rules and whether the R rate can be driven down.
– Are current restrictions likely to drive the R rate down in time for festivities?
Current projections suggest restrictions will not be eased in England before November celebrations, or even in time for Christmas.
Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling prompted the UK-wide lockdown in March, said Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions are “unlikely to cause daily cases and deaths to fall rapidly” and there could be “high levels” of cases until spring.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the Government “lost a window of opportunity” to drive cases down with a circuit-break lockdown over half-term, and ministers now need to “do something quickly to save Christmas”.
– Is there more hope for celebrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
Pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland and the central belt of Scotland have been closed for a few weeks, while millions in Wales have been under a “firebreak” lockdown since October 23.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the “sharp, deep form of restriction creates a break in the transmission of the virus” which could allow for earlier easing, but added restrictions are “about saving lives, not saving Christmas”.
In Northern Ireland, where coronavirus deaths are still rising, health minister Robin Swann said the nation had a better chance of a festive season where “hope has not been crushed” if the public complies with regulations.
In Scotland and Wales, deaths have begun declining over the past week, according to Government data.
– Will large families be allowed to meet?
Mr Eustice said the Government is prepared to stop families meeting in large groups for festivities if necessary.
He told LBC: “Obviously if we do need to have restrictions in place, and prevent families from coming together in large gatherings, if that’s necessary to control the virus that’s what we’ll have to do.”
He also suggested that families living in areas under different tier restrictions may not be allowed to meet even in groups of fewer than six.
– When will the Government be announcing yuletide restrictions?
Mr Eustice said on Wednesday it is “far too early” to outline Christmas restrictions, and there has been no indication about when an announcement is expected.
The Environment Secretary rejected calls from the Liberal Democrats to plan ahead for the festive period, arguing that “we should set our guidelines based on the epidemiology of this virus” instead.
The party’s leader Sir Ed Davey has called for four-nation Covid planning in relation to Christmas, warning that people face confusion and complexity over potential restrictions.
– How are people preparing for Christmas?
Shoppers are planning to buy gifts by the end of November, signalling a possible end to the last-minute rush, and sales of decorations and cards have rocketed compared with this time last year, according to a OnePoll survey of 2,000 people.
There are also signs that people are preparing for a digital Christmas – with nearly 40% saying they plan to decorate new areas of their homes, partly to provide a festive backdrop for video calls.
– Whatever ministers decide, what can individuals do to limit the spread of coronavirus ahead of festivities?
Epidemiologist Eleanor Murray said people could limit the number of people they meet by way of “contact budgeting”.
She told the New Scientist: “The way I was thinking about it is that there is a level of risk I am comfortable with.
“If I go to a grocery store during a really crowded time, to keep my average risk level constant, I’m probably not going to do something risky the next day.
“We are all familiar with the idea of financial budgeting, it is easy to translate to this situation.”