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11 December 2020

The UK’s Covid-19 Christmas policy could have a catastrophic human cost

Rising infection rates in London spell danger for the whole of the country.   

By Stephen Bush

Rapid testing will be rolled out across secondary schools in parts of London, Kent and Essex, in a bid to stop the spread of Covid-19, which, the government believes, is largely concentrated among secondary school children in those areas.

The problem, of course, is twofold: the first is that cases of Covid-19 among the less vulnerable parts of the population can easily spread to the more vulnerable parts of the population even in normal times. 

[See also: Should I go home for Christmas?]  

The second is that, as it stands, all of the United Kingdom’s four governments are planning to loosen restrictions on movement and household mixing from 23 to 27 December. The next review of which tier parts of the United Kingdom are in is on 16 December – so even if London or anywhere else entered a higher tier at midnight on 16 December, everyone would be allowed to travel across the rest of the country six days later.

That matters because London is a net importer of people. Over Christmas, the city empties out. The time-limited nature of the travel window means that, whether it is in crowded service stations or packed trains out of the capital, the conditions are present not only for the free exchange of Covid-19 within households taking advantage of the easing of restrictions, but also among households travelling to and from their Christmas gatherings.

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[See also: How Covid-19 is breaking up friendships]

It’s true that everyone has had a hellish year, but the correct approach was for the UK’s four governments to have a grown-up conversation about enforcement and risk minimisation. Instead, government policy opted for a one-size-fits-all approach that could end up with a catastrophic human cost that ensures a grim beginning to 2021.