No amount of Wham!, 99p tinsel or shiny baubles will inhibit the spread of COVID this Christmas
Newspapers, online media outlets and social media platforms seem to be perpetually awash with those who, if we believe the narrative, are gripped with fear of having their usual and comforting traditional Christmas celebrations curtailed. Households the length and breadth of these islands are practically paralysed by the realisation that a public health emergency will derail the indulgence and excesses of their familiar Christmas.
While I sympathise with those who attach significance and importance to the 25th of December, I am a realist and have to look at the real toll this pandemic is taking on the bodies and minds of victims and those afflicted and their families and friends, not to mention the health and wellbeing of those who had to shield and those who lost their jobs or had to have operations and treatments placed on hold.
I was one of the approximately 180,000 people who were assessed as being at extremely high risk from COVID and asked to shield at home by the Scottish Government from mid-March to mid-August. I won't sugar-coat the experience, if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know I found the experience incredibly isolating and stressful. I set up a Facebook peer support group for others who were shielding, and we have nearly 460 members. The group has members from every corner of Scotland and while shielding has been paused, many in the group have all but withdrawn from their communities and significantly restrict their interaction with others to keep themselves as safe as possible. For many in the group, the prognosis should they contract COVID is at the most severe end of the spectrum with the unpalatable and sobering reality that they'll need intensive care provision should the worst happen.
The First Minister has been asked continuously if her government will remove or ease restrictions to allow families to gather at Christmas. The media develop, and sometimes stoke, anxieties with regular stories of Christmas plans being ruined, of depressing predictions of empty high streets and of course - stories of those claiming come hell or high water they'll snub the COVID restrictions "to safeguard and protect Christmas".
I don't envy the First Minister or her cabinet, having to take difficult and unpopular decisions while running the government and keeping Scotland moving during this pandemic. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, it is nigh impossible to convincingly argue that the First Minister or the Scottish Government have been anything but clear on the reality of living under the shadows of this virus and the inevitability of restrictions at Christmas time. A time when families traditionally get together in significant numbers and remain in proximity for much of the festive season. During a pandemic this behaviour will allow these gatherings to act as a bridge of transmission and carry the virus from home to home, town to city, island to island and country to country.
As has been highlighted by the First Minister on a number of occasions, the Jewish and Muslim communities in Scotland had to endure lockdown restrictions during some of the most religiously significant annual celebrations. We didn't have newspapers jam-packed with claims that lives would lay in tatters if these celebrations were conducted during lockdown restrictions. We didn't have daily questions to the First Minister and Government over how Jewish and Muslim communities would not tolerate the restrictions nor were there plausible suggestions that mass disobedience would prevail.
The reality is that we will all be living under considerable restrictions for some time. The virus is showing no signs of going anywhere, and we have to learn to live with it.
It is farcical to suggest that Christmas is this untouchable and sacrosanct event which, if interfered with, will lead to restrictions being cast aside en masse by the populace. People will either follow the rules or they won't. We cannot claim that Jewish and Muslim celebrations can be conducted under lockdown whereas Christmas is a special case which cannot.
We either accept we are living amid a pandemic which calls on us all to make sacrifices, or we perpetuate the myth that Wham!, 99p tinsel and shiny baubles will keep us all safe as we all huddle around a turkey crown or nut roast.
If you received a letter telling you to shield in Scotland and you wish to join the group mentioned above, go to facebook.com/groups/164934237965550
Image: Volodymyr Hryshchenko