Over the next few days, the powers that be are going to be telling us what we are and aren’t allowed to do over the festive season. I can’t believe that I’ve actually just written that: it sounds as if Oliver Cromwell’s troops are liable to call round, take us by our left legs and throw us down the stairs. That’s 2020 for you. However, it sounds as if the authorities, not just here but everywhere else, *don’t* want to be like Cromwell and go down in history as the people who cancelled Christmas, so we’re going to get a few days “off”. But is that the right decision?
We, in Greater Manchester, have been banned from going into other people’s homes, or meeting people inside public places such as restaurants, since July 31st. It was announced late at night, with no warning, to come into effect within little more than two hours. We were barely out of national lockdown at that point. Due to work and educational commitments, many people hadn’t yet chance to be reunited with loved ones whom they hadn’t seen since before this nightmare began – and some still haven’t. In mid-October, we were told that we could at least see people in private gardens, but, less than a fortnight later, not only had we again been banned from doing that but we’d been told that we weren’t even supposed to leave our local area. In an age in which pretty much everyone’s got immediate relatives and close friends living in other parts of the country, imagine how that felt. I hear people down south moaning about having been put into Tier 2 – maybe try to remember that we’ve had tighter restrictions than Tier 2 for almost four months now. So we, more than anyone, are desperate to get together with our loved ones over Christmas.
Usually, by this time of year, I’ve got “Fairytale of New York” (with or without words banned by the BBC) and “Merry Christmas Everybody” going through my head. This year, it’s Freddie Mercury singing “Oh, my friends, it’s been a long hard year. But now it’s Christmas … for one day”. One day. Well, a few days. It’s not even just about the fact that it’s Christmas. Yes, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year”. Yes, most of us have got a sentimental attachment to it, regardless of what religion, if any, we practise. But, after the year we’ve had, I’d jump for joy at the thought of being able spend time with family and friends to celebrate the fact that it’s actually not raining this morning, or that United beat West Brom last night. Anything.
And yet … switching from Queen to the Pet Shop Boys, “Is it worth it?”. (OK, the song’s “Was it worth it?”, but near enough!). There’s a lot of talk of facing five days of tighter restrictions for every one day of a Christmas truce. We’re probably talking five days over Christmas, plus, to respect Scottish culture, two days over New Year. So that could mean over a month of near-lockdown. A lot of businesses and not-for-profit cultural institutions won’t survive that. Small shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars, hair and beauty salons, gyms and leisure centres, hotels, public transport, museums and other tourist attractions are struggling as it is. The airline industry, sports clubs whose fans are banned from entering the stadia, cinemas, theatres, live music venues, wedding planners, caterers … they’re on their knees. Another month or more of tighter restrictions could cost thousands of jobs.
And there are the mental health implications. January and February are never the most cheerful months of the year as it is. We’re already going to be facing them under severe restrictions. Could this mean that those restrictions are even more severe? And there is, of course, the issue of spreading the virus. Infection rates here are, mercifully, falling, down by 25% in our borough since last week, after sky-rocketing throughout September, October and early November. Do we really want to risk seeing them go right back up again? See hospital admissions, and, tragically, probably death figures, go up again? For the sake of a few days?
And yet those few days would mean so much, in what’s been a pretty rotten year.
I don’t know what the answer is. There are no easy answers. And, let’s face it, a lot of people will be getting together over the festive season anyway, because they’ve just had enough.
So what’s going to happen? Well, apparently we will be finding out over the next few days. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a Christmas like no other. But, eighty years ago, the Luftwaffe killed nearly 700 people in the Manchester area in horrific bombing raids on December 22nd, 23rd and 24th, and over 350 people in the Liverpool area on December 20th, 21st and 22nd. If the wartime generations coped with that, we can cope with whatever this year brings. Somehow.