There are reassuring signs from ministers that a relaxation of Covid restrictions for part of the festive period will go ahead. It is a pragmatic decision and the right one.
My own Christmas routine has been perfected during 46 years of marriage.
On Christmas Eve I shall drive to London’s Smithfield Market to buy a turkey large enough for my wife’s extended family. On Christmas Day I shall – as tradition dictates – don my ridiculous chef’s hat and carve the bird. We will drink substantial quantities of very decent wine.
I will get merry, then slightly grumpy, retire for a brief snooze in the corner before working off the excesses with a brisk walk with the dog.
This is our family’s choice of how to celebrate – just as it should be.
On Christmas Eve I shall drive to London ’s Smithfield Market to buy a turkey large enough for my wife’s extended family. Pictured, Professor Karol Sikora
I certainly won’t have put pressure on any nervous elderly relatives to join us. It must be their decision, taken after weighing the risks.
We will of course be taking the sensible precautions you might find in any well-run ‘Covid-secure’ restaurant (before they were all shut down again last night). There will be no extravagant hugs and kisses in the Sikora household. Those relatives who might have spent the night under our well-ventilated roof will probably drive home.
But we shall have fun; I am determined on that score. When you get to my age – 70 – you do quietly begin wondering how many more Christmases you will be vigorous enough to enjoy to the full. My working life is all about cancer, which perhaps explains why I always strive to see that the glass is half full.
The current row over the ‘five days of Christmas’ was triggered by a rare, joint editorial from two esteemed publications – the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal. It argued that plans to relax Covid restrictions are ‘rash’ and must be reversed to protect the NHS and save lives.
No doubt in the days ahead, the Government’s decision to hold firm will come under continued criticism, especially if Wales and Scotland take a different stance.
But this is scarcely helpful. What we need are fewer threats, less of the emotive language and more practical advice about how we can minimise risks. Advocates of cancellation seem united in their assumption that the elderly are incapable of making informed choices.
The truth is that if Christmas is in effect cancelled, many of the very elderly will not live to see their grandchildren again. Every week, before Covid, during Covid and after Covid, thousands of loved ones in this age group die. It’s a sad statistical fact of life we seem to have forgotten. There has been a nasty, totalitarian whiff to this Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – though I fear that is very much in keeping with the spirit of the age. We have had to get used to hordes of know-it-alls patrolling social media and ‘cancelling’ people they regard as beyond the pale.
I have been a target since I established an unlikely presence on Twitter. The vast majority of my 340,000 followers are well-meaning, kind and sometimes very amusing. But I know a minority are there only to demand I be cancelled.
The truth is that we all make mistakes and nobody has got everything right. Indeed, on Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed, in ominous tones, the emergence of a new strain of the virus – as though we are living out a chapter of John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids. Ignoring the basic fact that respiratory viruses always evolve, he produced no evidence for his startling claim that a variant was driving an exponential increase in infections in the South.
The problem is the lack of proportion and nuance. Certain people demand the rules be tightened further, without pausing to consider if those rules can be enforced, and what the collateral consequences may be. How would you explain to a depressed young man, or a recently bereaved woman, that their family Christmas has been cancelled by ministerial fiat?
This is a time when people are craving reassurance from scientists and politicians, but all we see is panic, confusion, and rows. Reversing the decision to ‘unlock’ Christmas would be devastating for millions of families – but also for this Government’s flagging authority.
I’m certainly not minimising the scale of the challenge. But we have to start treating people like adults. Show them respect and they’ll start respecting the rules.
Trust the elderly to make their own decisions, and trust their families to look out for them. So if you are planning on seeing Granny and Grandad this year, take some pre-emptive steps to protect them.
Reduce contact with others from now wherever possible. And on the big day itself take extra care to create space around them and others in your home, and open the windows. Anyone who feels under the weather, well, they must stay home or in their rooms and, I’m afraid, miss out on the fun.
Those of us who work with patients suffering from lethal diseases learn one fundamental truth. Life is for living. That will be my attitude on Christmas Day as I enjoy the company of dear family, and I fervently hope it will be for the whole country if that is their choice.
Karol Sikora is a consultant oncologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Buckingham Medical School.