Christmas will be a Covid disaster for Wales – but I’m not sure it’s one politicians can now stop
Ifan Morgan Jones
There’s little doubt that if it wasn’t for Christmas that Wales would already be back in a harsh lockdown by now.
Indeed, we’re set to pay the price for the holiday with a heavy month-long shutdown on December 28, as soon as festivities come to an end.
That will be followed by an extended tiered system, with most of Wales’ population in the harshest category.
January and February have always felt like a long, dark, cold hangover after the feasting in December and this year that feeling is going to be accentuated.
We already know what will happen because we’ve already seen it in the USA, where Thanksgiving led to a big spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.
And as Covid case numbers go through the roof in a months’ time we may well look back and ask – was it worth it? And the answer will probably be ‘no’.
Christmas will cost lives, and there is very little that is in the Christmas spirit about knowing that our desire to forget our worries today will kill people tomorrow.
Despite this, I am sympathetic to the bind that our politicians find themselves in.
Ultimately, governments can suggest changes to people’s behaviour but they do not have a button they can press which opens the country up and close it down.
Any lockdown is essentially unenforceable from a policing POV and mostly depends on the co-operation of the public to do what they’re told.
There’s also a danger that when people start breaking lockdown rules and see no consequences in doing so, they’re more likely to do it again.
In the case of Christmas, the turkey has been stuffed. Christmas Day is next week but the festival essentially starts from this weekend on. People were told they can travel to see their families, have made their plans and are likely going whatever the government say at this point.
The Welsh Government, in particular, are in an extra bind which is that the UK Government have already undercut negotiations by briefing to the press that no Christmas lockdown will be considered.
Because of a lack of media in Wales, and the strength of the London-based media, the Welsh Government can struggle at the best of times to get their message out.
Having previously emphasised that Wales was joining in with a four-nations, united approach, allowing people to cross borders to see family, any change of direction now would be largely futile.
Unless they close the border, if Christmas is essentially cancelled in Wales and allowed elsewhere in the UK that could very well lead to more unnecessary travel, not less, and people accept invitations to celebrate over Offa’s Dyke.
The Welsh Government is hardly in a position at the moment to squander any political capital with the public, either.
Yesterday’s YouGov poll confirmed what many had suspected which was that the hospitality alcohol ban and other measures had been unpopular and the public’s perception of the Welsh Government’s handling of the crisis is falling quickly.
This isn’t just about naked political self-interest – as the UK Government found with Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle, once you lose the public’s confidence your authority to impose Covid-19 restrictions on them can falter as well.
A complete and disruptive u-turn on Christmas at this point would no doubt be a heavy blow to the Welsh Government’s authority and further undermine the hard-earned sense of competence displayed in the summer and autumn.
In an ideal world, Christmas would be significantly pared down this year. Perhaps a lot of people will see sense and do that anyway.
However, in terms of imposing late restrictions, the Welsh Government are between a rock and a hard place and don’t have that much room for manoeuvre.
That’s why we’re likely to see little more than minor changes and a greater emphasis on advice come out of today’s discussion, rather than significantly harsher measures.
And then in January and February, we will have to pay the price.
Let’s just hope that we don’t look back with too much regret. If we thought 2021 was going to be significantly better than 2020 – the next few months may well prove us wrong.