If the last five months has taught us anything it’s that you can’t plan ahead at the moment. When lockdown first started, I got through it by setting myself little goals. Surely this will just last a few weeks? No? OK. Then everything will be back to normal by September, right? Definitely not. So, what will Christmas 2020 look like? Well, Santa may have to social distance this year and your festive dinner table will probably look a little bit different.
What The Government Has Said About Christmas 2020
Many restaurants, cafes, and bars took the step to reopen at the start of July and the government rolled out its plans to ease lockdown across the UK. However, this hasn’t been universal, as places like Leicester, Greater Manchester, and areas of Yorkshire experienced a second spike and went into local lockdown. And on September 8, it was announced that a six-person rule would be introduced for indoor and outdoor gatherings to help try and control the recent uptick in coronavirus cases.
On July 17, Boris Johnson said he was planning for a “more significant return to normality” by Christmas, something he reiterated on September 9. However, the R rate (the average number of secondary infections produced by a single infected person) is at 0.9-1.1, as of Sept. 4, when the government had said it needed to remain under one for measures to be further eased.
Scientists have highlighted that as the weather gets colder there may be a rise in cases of COVID-19, and on Sept. 9 Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said during a press conference to announce changes to measures: "The period between now and spring is going to be difficult because this is a respiratory virus."
It came the day after health secretary Matt Hancock announced that stricter lockdown measures would be brought back on a national level. From Sept. 14 people will no longer be able to meet with more than six people in a social setting, either inside or outside. Work, schools, and weddings and funerals are excluded from this. The Mirror is reporting that the government plans for the new measures to be in place for three months, and without a change in circumstances such as the roll-out of a vaccine, they may be in place for six months.
During an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme Hancock was asked whether the measures would be in place until Christmas. He replied: “It’s absolutely there for the foreseeable future. I really hope that we can turn this around before Christmas." When pressed, he added: “I think that, in a pandemic, Christmas is a long way off. Three months is a long time in a pandemic and I very much hope that this stronger rule, together with the local action that we’ve taken in places like Bolton … I very much hope therefore this can work to do that by Christmas.”
Speaking exclusively to The Sun on Sept. 16, the Prime Minister compared a recent uptick in coronavirus cases to a camel's back, revealing that further curfew measures such as shutting pubs at 10 p.m. will be implemented if the “rule of six” is not properly adhered to. Johnson added that social restrictions and a significant increase in testing are the only way to avoid a second lockdown — and if the increase in new cases can be “stopped in its tracks” the government will loosen newer restrictions to ensure families can enjoy Christmas together.
“All this is to say that: Christmas we want to protect, and we want everyone to have a fantastic Christmas,” the Prime Minister told the newspaper, adding: “But the only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now. So if we can grip it now, stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.”
Will There Be A Second Wave?
While it’s impossible to predict the future, experts have warned that people should prepare themselves for the worst, as a second wave of COVID-19 may come as the weather gets colder. In June Professor Jonathan Ball, a virologist at the University of Nottingham, told the BBC, "A second wave is almost inevitable, particularly as we go towards the winter months," and as many countries in Europe have seen a second wave and areas of the UK have had to go into local lockdown, others have said it’s an accurate prediction.
The independent scientific advisory group (SAGE) also said they felt that lockdown had been eased prematurely which may risk a second wave. And cases in the UK have begun to rise again, with 3,395 new cases seen on September 17 — the highest daily increase since mid-May, the BBC reports.
The NHS has already announced that it’s preparing for a second wave of COVID-19. Boris Johnson has pledged an extra £3 billion in funding on July 17. Similarly, NHS CEO Sir Simon Stevens told the Andrew Marr show he thought it’s “entirely possible that there could be a resurgence in the winter months...particularly if it is co-existent with the flu. And the risk is many of the symptoms are interchangeable. So one of the things we need is a very rigorous NHS testing and tracing service available.”
Will A Vaccine Be Ready?
On Sept. 3 it was announced that around 20 pharmaceutical companies are holding trials to find a COVID-19 vaccine. In the U.S. drug companies GSK and Sanofi have said they’ve started trials on a vaccine but won’t find out the results until December. If successful it’ll need further testing after that.
Researchers at the University of Oxford are currently leading the race in finding a vaccine. They’ve done trials in the UK and Brazil and have started conducting some in the U.S, also. They’re working with the firm AstraZeneca and say they could find out whether the vaccine works before the end of the year. However, the final clinical trial for the vaccine was put on hold on Sept. 9 after a participant had a suspected adverse reaction in the UK. Three days later, Oxford University confirmed the trial had been deemed safe to continue. Speaking on Twitter on Sept. 12, Health Secretary Matt Hancock welcomed the news, commenting: “This pause shows we will always put safety first. We will back our scientists to deliver an effective vaccine as soon as safely possible.”
The government has said it’ll be the best case scenario if a vaccine is found in the next four months and Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer said “if we develop effective vaccines, it is important that we make them available to patients as quickly as possible but only once strict safety standards have been met.”
Will You Have To Social Distance?
The short answer is, at the moment, yes. The summer has looked super different and the government guidelines still outline that you should still be practising two meter social distancing where possible, and one meter distancing in more confined spaces. People can come together indoors so long as there's no more than six of you but you may have to make extra space around the dining room table. You can meet up to six people and can sleep over in another house so long as you maintain social distancing.
But Christmas is about much more than the festivities on Dec. 25. However, your Christmas shopping and trips to see Santa may look very different too. Speaking to the BBC, Matthew Wise, managing director of Great Grottos said, "Great Grottos expects the Christmas grotto to move away from enclosed structures towards more expansive open staged settings with decorative backdrops." This will allow for social distancing.
Similarly, many Christmas markets are yet to announce whether they’ll be going ahead with social distancing measures in place or be cancelled altogether.
On Sept. 18, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that the traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations – including the fireworks display along the Thames – would be cancelled, saying the capital "can’t afford" to have large crowds of people to gather, per Metro.