As you will recall, a common approach to Christmas was agreed in November across the four nations of the UK. This approach was designed to enable people to spend time with loved ones over Christmas by forming a ‘Christmas Bubble’ of up to three households over the five-day period of the 23rd to the 27th December, regardless of tier level.
However, as you will now no doubt have heard, a new variant of the virus, with increased transmission rates has since emerged. Although it is early days, and there is still considerable uncertainty, it is my understanding that the science suggests this new variant may be up to 70 percent more transmissible. Given the early evidence on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, the Prime Minister held a press conference to announce that it is not possible to continue with Christmas as planned.
The action that the Prime Minister has taken is to introduce a new ‘tier 4’, broadly equivalent to the national restrictions which were in place in England in November. This applies to all of London and much of the East and South East of England. Details of the restrictions for ‘tier 4’ areas can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/tier-4-stay-at-home. Those living in ‘tier 4’ areas in England should not mix with anyone outside their own household at Christmas, though I am pleased that ‘support bubbles’ will remain in place for those at particular risk of loneliness or isolation.
Across the rest of England, including here in Northamptonshire, the Christmas rules allowing up to three households to meet are now being limited to Christmas Day only, rather than the five days as previously set out. As before, there will be no relaxation on the 31st December, so people must not break the rules at New Year.
This is all incredibly disappointing news. We all invest a lot of emotion in this time of year, and I fully appreciate how upsetting this will be for many families, particularly after this difficult year. But the Prime Minister has been clear, without this further action, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands would lose their lives. We are sacrificing our chance to see loved ones this Christmas, so we have a better chance of protecting their lives in order to see them at future Christmases.
Regrettably, by way of a further update, I must also add here that Northamptonshire is to enter ‘tier 3’ from Boxing Day, which I know will come as a great disappointment to many, myself included, particularly having been fairly resistant over time to our area being put in an unduly high tier. You can find out more about what this means, here: https://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/news/council-news/Pages/northamptonshire-placed-in-tier-3-from-boxing-day.aspx. I very much hope, however, that with everyone’s help and diligence, we can get the virus back under control again locally and then see a swift declassification of our tier once more.
It really is frustrating, but I hugely appreciate the reasonableness of everybody locally and the determination to do the right thing. I know that in 2021, we are all looking forward to better, happier times, where we can all hopefully be together once more. It may not seem like it right now with this news, but as a whole, things are looking up - there is now real hope that we will soon be rid of this virus. We are the first country in the western world to begin using a clinically approved vaccine. Hundreds of thousands of people have already had their first dose, including thousands here in Northamptonshire, and if the NHS contacts you, then I encourage you to join them.
Finally, I would like to end by wishing everyone here in Corby & East Northamptonshire all the very best for what I know will be a difficult Christmas and New year in the circumstances.