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Christmas bubbles: use your common sense

Off the back of his announcement about the changes to the Covid-19 guidance over the 5-day Christmas period, Boris Johnson reminded the public that “‘tis the season to be jolly careful.” Panel shows and social media took this and ran with it, culminating in some wonderful Covid-safe covers of Christmas songs being shared by the mums of Facebook across the country.

Jokes about making words like ‘furlough’ and ‘social distancing’ rhyme in classic Christmas songs notwithstanding, the government has put a great deal of effort into stressing that we follow the rules this Christmas. But Chris Witty’s reminder that “the fact you can do something, doesn’t mean you should” is the most important thing to remember this festive season. 

The only way I’ve managed to get my head around the government’s rules has been to apply them to my own situation. I’m the eldest of two children, and my immediate family consists of myself, my 17-year-old sister, and my divorced parents: my mum (who we both live with) and my dad (who lives alone).

As has been the case the whole time, children under 18 who have separated parents can spend time in close contact with either parent without it counting as a separate household. The Christmas bubble rules also state that children under 18 can also join two separate Christmas bubbles.

Further, university students who are returning home for Christmas (whether or not they’re travelling in the student travel window) can join their family’s home bubble. 

Cumulatively, that means that on paper, my mum, sister, dad and I could all technically count as one household for Christmas bubbling purposes, and meet two other households. In practice, however, I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. In spite of having self-isolated for two weeks beforehand, I’ll have flown down south from Edinburgh, which involves navigating the UK’s busiest airport. My sister goes to a college with over 2,000 pupils on the roll, my mum teaches, and my dad will have been commuting into London twice a week for almost a month by the time Christmas rolls around. 

A lot of jokes have been made about how parents with grown-up children will have to choose who they like the most to spend Christmas with. I’m not kidding when I say that we’ve had to draw a flowchart to figure out who’s in whose Christmas bubble in my extended family. 

Obsessing over the rules misses the bigger point, though. Just because, yes, through a complicated mix of the rules about support bubbles, Christmas bubbles, the rules about the children of separated parents and the rules about students travelling home, I can, in theory, see my Nan in her home this Christmas, I really don’t think I should.

She’s clinically vulnerable, for a start, and already being exposed to the germs of the others in her support bubble – a teacher and her two children, both of whom live at home, but regularly commute into London. If you add that to the fact that I’ll have been exposed to the germs of Heathrow Terminal 5, plus whatever my mum and sister have also been exposed to, I don’t know if I can stomach that risk, on a moral level. 

Chris Witty’s rather morbid message of avoiding hugging and kissing elderly relatives, “if you want them to survive to be hugged again” is a risk I’m not prepared to take. The Welsh government have advised that families wanting to visit grandparents should undertake 10 days of isolation before they travel. Overall, the guidance from all of the constituent countries is to consider seeing extended family members online, or postponing get-togethers until the summer, when we can meet outside without freezing. 

I absolutely understand the importance of the Christmas bubbles scheme to people who live alone, and so are at greater risk of loneliness and isolation, with all the impacts that that can have on people’s mental and physical health. The issue, I think, is that there’s a risk people will choose to follow the letter of the Christmas bubble rules instead of using their own common sense. 

Ultimately, trying to follow the rules to the letter is a headache. It’s got to be a case of people using their common sense. Unfortunately, this year has been a consistent showcase of ‘good old-fashioned British common sense’ not being enough to prevent the spread of this deadly disease. An academic quoted by the BBC this week summed it up best: “the virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas”. We can’t afford to take our eye off the ball this festive season, or we’ll be facing the deadly repercussions in the new year. 

Image: New York Public Library via Wikimedia Commons

By Emma Hunt

Culture and Opinion writer