It is certainly a calculated risk, especially in the light of the warnings by two respected medical journals this week that a failure to tighten things up would “cost many lives”.
It seems the Prime Minister, the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her counterpart in Wales, Mark Drakeford, decided that they didn’t want to be characterised as the grinches who stole Christmas.
But I believe another factor is in play – the simple fact that if severe restrictions had been imposed over the festive season, they would simply be widely ignored.
The fact is the general public, who were told back in the spring we just had to put up with three weeks of restrictions to “flatten the curve”, are thoroughly fed up of the loss of liberty that has now stretched into more than nine months, with no immediate end in sight.
More than a whiff of rebellion is in the air and I think if the Government tried to cancel Christmas it may have been the last straw for many.
Take a friend of mine, let’s call her Helen, who has been an exemplary citizen during the pandemic following all the ever-changing government advice to the letter.
When the scientists told us back in the spring that wearing a mask made absolutely no difference, she didn’t wear one, but when that advice suddenly and inexplicably changed to say a mask was absolutely necessary, she wore one without question – even when alone in her car.
She stopped going to church, abandoned her fitness classes and cancelled the weekly meet-up with a group of girlfriends for coffee in a local cafe.
She hasn’t visited a restaurant or pub since March and her regular trips to the theatre, concert hall and cinema are a thing of the past.
Most painful of all is that she has hardly seen her grown up children or baby grandchildren for many months thanks to government restrictions.
Like millions around the country her normal life has vanished, with incalculable impacts on her physical and mental health.
But under the three household rule she could at least look forward to the festive period by bringing the immediate family together in a “bubble” for up to five days over Christmas according to government advice.
Plans for a family celebration were well under way, presents wrapped, tree decorated and lashings of food and drink ordered, to at least put end of year gloss on what has been an absolutely terrible 2020.
So when I bumped into her earlier this week – properly socially distanced of course – I was interested to know how she would react if tighter restrictions were suddenly introduced in the coming days, as many scientists had been recommending the Prime Minister.
She was emphatic. “Sorry, but I will take no notice,” she said. “They can put me in jail if they like, but we are having our family Christmas come what may.
“Lots of other people have broken the rules and got away with it – so why can’t I?”
It is hard to argue with that and I reckon she is not alone in her sentiments. And if meek and obedient Helen is ready to mount the barricades against the Government, you can bet there are plenty of other ordinary people ready to do the same.
So perhaps the Government is wise to read the mood of the nation and not push people too far. Yes, the scientists are probably right that more deaths will happen as a result, but also think of the damage to people’s physical and mental health if they are prevented from seeing friends and family this Christmas.
So perhaps, given how utterly fed up people are, Johnson’s call for a “shorter and smaller” Christmas is the best compromise, and the British Medical Association’s advice to keep mixing indoors to an absolute minimum is about as far as we can take it.
This is my last column before Christmas, so may I wish readers a very merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year. Enjoy your family parties, but please just be as careful as you can.
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