Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement just after 4 pm, less than a week before Christmas. The new rules have banned the maximum of three households from mixing indoors before and after Christmas Day. Meanwhile, those in London, the southeast and east of England have been moved into tier 4, which will start on Sunday, as a new strand of the virus has begun sweeping through those respective areas. This means that those people in those areas will now have to remain where they are and cannot see their friends and loved ones on Christmas Day.
This controversial announcement has proven to be very unpopular as those who have not been able to form their social bubbles yet will have to cancel their plans for Christmas. This has since led to worrying scenes at train stations in London where those wishing to go home for Christmas crammed themselves onto trains, with no social distancing, in an effort to get home and see their families before the restrictions are enforced.
For many, the anger and disappointment will be little consolation for having their plans completely derailed but it could have been different. On the Wednesday before the government’s announcement, Johnson was challenged by Labour leader Kier Starmer during PMQs about the plans for Christmas warning him that the “next big mistake will be the easing of restrictions over Christmas." Starmer went on to quote the British Medical Journal who said that the government was on the verge of making an error which “could cost many lives.” Starmer then asked Johnson to explain what the impact this decision will be on the infection rate and the NHS across the country.
Johnson dismissed the claims and accused Starmer of wanting to “cancel Christmas” pledging that they were going ahead with the current restrictions and that they didn’t want to “criminalise” people’s plans. This was three days before he and the government would have to make a major u-turn and force people into rearranging their Christmas plans.
This particular exchange from Wednesday’s PMQs has since cited by many who are irate and disappointed with the government’s decision, especially when the prime minister denied it so publically before having to make a swift 180 three days later.
Starmer admitted that he was really "frustrated" by the government’s decision given that he had raised it just days before the announcement only to have his concerns dismissed.
This is just one of the many changes that the government has made during the pandemic which have come under intense scrutiny. Although vaccine doses have begun to be distributed in the UK, cases are still rising and a new, reportedly more infectious strain has been detected in the southeast of England.