Saturday, 19th December, 2020

[Day 278]

Today seemed full of promise and we woke up to a bright blue sky and a modicum of pale sunshine.We walked down into town and as we went, we hand-delivered our Christmas cards to immediate friends and neighbours (about a dozen in total). We then picked up our newspapers (helpfully, kept in reserve for us behind the counter, which helpful when there are a lot of supplements). On the way down, we bumped into one of our ‘park’ friends for whom I had been looking out as I had been carrying round a Christmas card for her for days. Anyway we coincided and she gave us news of an impending eye operation that she was to have in the New Year – we hope that it doesn’t impede her on her mobility scooter upon which she whizzes around at great speed leaving us in the shade.

One of our most pleasant surprises was a Christmas card from our ex near-neighbours in Hampshire. We remember their children particularly well for when they were aged about eight and five they came round to introduce themselves to us. As their own grandparents lived some way away (in Devon) we became sort of ‘local’ grandparents to them and they used to pop in most days for a chat about this and that. Anyway, they are both now well grown up and have both acquired First Class Honours in their respective universities. As they were both working from home (and living at home) we wondered if we might organise a kind of video chat between the six of us so we can catch up on each other’s news (we have been in Bromsgrove for thirteen years now and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge)

Late on this afternoon, we were treated to the sight of Boris making a special announcement at 4pm. This was heavily trailed and as it turned out, we had the most sombre looking prime Minister announcing a new Tier (Tier 4) that was going to apply to London and much of the South East, as well as Portsmouth, much of Essex and Peterborough. Moreover,Christmas has been effectively cancelled as the previously announced ‘Christmas bubble‘ which had been scheduled for about five days had now been reduced on one i.e. Christmas Day itself. What has spooked the government particularly is that a variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading much more rapidly than the original virus and according to some estimates could be up to 70% more transmissible than the original strain of the disease. So all of London and much of the South East is now subject to, in effect, an almost complete lockdown. Every one is encouraged to work from home where possible. It means people in a swathe of the south-east and east England and London will not be able to mix with other households at all over Christmas. A stay-at-home message will be enshrined in law, and non-essential shops, as well as indoor leisure and entertainment venues, will close. Across the rest of the country, plans for five-day Christmas bubbles of up to three households have been dramatically scaled back. The rules will now only cover Christmas day in England, with Johnson urging all gatherings to be kept short and small.

As one might expect, these new restrictions have produced a massive backlash from the right wing of the Conservative party. They were already deeply unhappy about the size of the areas to be placed in Tier 3 and now these are in Tier 4. One argument being heard is that as Parliament originally approved all the Christmas arrangements in a parliamentary vote, only Parliament can approve the new arrangements in a new vote. However, the restrictions come into force at midnight tonight and a recall of Parliament might take several days, so this is probably a forlorn hope. But Parliament probably needs to be recalled if there is going to be legislation to push through a new (but as yet, not forthcoming) new trade agreement with the EU. It does look as Boris Johnson’s claim to fame night be ‘The Prime Minister who cancelled Christmas‘ To my mind, three interesting questions arise from today’s statement. Firstly, I have to say that the government has acted correctly and there was probably no alternative given the extremely rapid transmission of the new variant of COVID-19. A second question, though, is how many people will obey and how many will openly flout the government (incidentally not just putting themselves at risk but potentially the rest of the country) And finally, will the mood of the Tory MP’s be such that they actually want to ditch Boris? Incidentally, I think that this plays into the hands of Boris Johnson walking away without a deal with the EU as it might just save his skin with the rest off the Tory party. What a mess the country will be in within a fortnight if we have a no-deal Brexit, a massive economic crisis and a raging out-of-control pandemic!