Coronavirus has left the prospect of a full family Christmas in doubt for many of us.
With scientists warning England will still face some restrictions after lockdown ends on December 2, Boris Johnson’s assurance that Christmas will be “as normal as possible” might feel hard to believe.
Without restrictions throughout next month, the SAGE group is warning the virus could run rampant, with infections reaching the highs seen in September and October.
And they’ve suggested the tier system may not be enough to bring infections down.
SAGE has released documents from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O) group, calling on the Government to introduce stricter measures if the lockdown does end as planned on December 2.
A (SPI-M-O) document, dated November 4, states: “If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before November 5, then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today.”
So what will the government do?
Our colleagues at BirminghamLive have examined the options, and suggested four routes politicians might choose, and what they would mean for us:
Return to the Tier system – with the North East approaching Tier 3
The PM has has insisted the lockdown will end on December 2, as originally planned, at which point, the country could revert to the system previously in place.
“These measures – the crucial thing to understand is that they expire on December 2,” he said during a cabinet meeting.
“They come to an end. And we therefore as a Government and indeed as a country have a deadline and a target to develop solutions which previously did not exist.”
This would mean any households in Tiers 2 or 3 would be banned from mixing indoors, while those in Tier 3 would be warned not to leave the area.
Leaders in the North East have warned rising infection rates could mean our region might be plunged into this toughest Tier once lockdown ends.
People would still be allowed to meet outdoors under the rule of six, however – so a chilly Christmas dinner could be on the cards for some.
However, the advice of the Sage group seems to suggest that a return to this system wouldn’t do much good, with Covid-19 levels bouncing back to where they were before lockdown was enforced.
Rule of six scrapped – but just for the 25th
Some have suggested Mr Johnson would be reluctant to be seen as ‘cancelling Christmas’, and may ease restrictions even further, despite potential risks.
A source told The Sun on Sunday the rule of six could be lifted on Christmas Day to allow families to spend time together.
The insider said: “The PM is anxious to avoid being portrayed as Scrooge.
“He’s fully aware that millions of people are making big sacrifices to defeat this virus and is considering ways to allow them to experience the joy of Christmas for at last part of the holiday season.”
Full lockdown staying in force
At the very other end of the spectrum, if the situation doesn’t imporve, full lockdown might stay in place for the rest of the month.
And it’s possible ministers simply won’t know if there’s enough progress by December 2, because deaths have a lag time of several weeks after infections start to come down.
MPs would have to vote on any lockdown extension, but it would likely pass because Labour would probably support it.
Some will argue strongly in favour of this move, since people may be more likely to bend the more complicated Tier System rules at Christmas, while the simple and black-and-white nature of a lockdown makes expectations clearer.
It would be a bold move from the Prime Minister however, and likely to be unpopular with many.
Clear rule to unite the UK
Here’s one thing we do know for certain: whatever is in force over Christmas, it’s likely to be the same across the UK.
So far, the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken slightly different approaches to Covid control than that enforced by Westminster in England.
But with fears people could cross borders to visit family in December, the four administrations are now planning to look at a joint approach to the Christmas period.
They met in a COBRA meeting on Monday morning, in which they “agreed on the importance of coordinating public messaging, in particular on travel both within the UK and abroad.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman added: “Officials from across the UK Government, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive will work together on a joint approach to the Christmas period.”