Christmas and Covid: is mixing households a good idea?

The UK government’s announcement to allow three households to meet together over five days at Christmas has attracted differing opinions. Many people fear that relaxing lockdown poses too great a risk to life, others are pleased they can see their family after being apart so long. One in four, according to a poll last weekend, would probably treat Christmas as they do normally, despite any restrictions.

The Guardian spoke to four people about their response to the news.

Jacky (left) died six days after testing positive for coronavirus. Her wife Jane (right) fears Christmas gatherings could lead to further deaths.
Jacky (left) died six days after testing positive for coronavirus. Her wife Jane (right) fears Christmas gatherings could lead to further deaths. Photograph: Jane Morrison/Guardian Community

‘If people really understood the risk would they still take it?’

On 24 December, it will be two months since I held my 49-year-old wife, Jacky, in my arms while she died from Covid-19, six days after she contracted it. People who say it is just bad flu are so wrong. It is a frightening virus and to hear your loved one struggle for breath is a memory that will never leave you.

I would not wish this virus on my worst enemy, let alone on my loved ones, and the thought of people risking the lives of their loved ones just so they can be together for a meal, drinks and presents is, in my view, crazy.

If somebody realised they’d taken the infection to a family member, they’d find it so difficult to live with that. If people really understood the risk would they still take it?

We’re so close to the end of it. With a vaccine coming, surely all can wait a few more months. I understand people wanting to see their grandparents, who have had a hellish time, but they could have had it a hell of a lot worse if they’d had this disease.
Jane Morrison, 62, retired, Perthshire

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‘The rules means I can have both my daughters home’

One of my daughters lives with her boyfriend in London, and the other lives in a flat share. The three-household rule means I can see them both. It’s a rubber-stamp, and it means that in your conscience you can know you’re doing the right thing, and abiding by what the government deems acceptable.

If my daughters have any symptoms they won’t be allowed to come in. I might even take their temperatures at the door.

It does mean that I can’t see mine or my husband’s parents, but I don’t want to increase the risk to them. They’re in the at-risk age bracket, and I don’t know who my daughters are mixing with, especially because they’re both working. I know they’ll be disappointed, and want to just get on with life, but I’m not willing to put them at risk. If the tier system enables me to see them outside that period, I’ll do that instead.

Normally we have 12 or 14 people around on Christmas Eve, and we considered calling it a funeral for a turkey to get them around, but we won’t break the rules. I can see so many people are going to break this, and any good work that’s been done will be undone, but I don’t think these rules change that. Even if they’d said five or six households some people will always stretch the limits.
Susan Marr, 56, hospital worker, Herefordshire

Rachel Sumner, 38, who feels dread at the thought of lockdown ending.
Rachel Sumner, 38, who feels dread at the thought of lockdown ending. Photograph: Rachel Sumner
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‘I somewhat despair about the government making Christmas the ‘be-all and end-all’

The new rule doesn’t change anything for me. It’s not responsible to meet friends so I will just be visiting my mum who is vulnerable and who I am in a support bubble with. I’m quite happy to do less this year to save lives. The thought of lockdown ending next week fills me with dread. We’re still seeing thousands of infections every day and hundreds dead.

I somewhat despair about the government making Christmas the ‘be-all and end-all’ when other faiths have missed out on their celebrations this year. It’s not just insulting to them but it puts too much emphasis on to something which, in my opinion, is an irresponsible step at this stage.

The rule is one of those things that’s so vague there’s a huge amount left to interpretation. People are fed up, desperate and exhausted by all this so it’s almost a green light to interpret it as you wish.

I understand that it comes from a point of beneficence to give a bit of hope and happiness, but when we’re so close to seeing the end of this pandemic with the rollout of the vaccine, and still in the guts of the flu pandemic, we’re setting ourselves up for several things to go wrong in January.
Rachel Sumner, 38, senior lecturer in psychology, Gloucestershire

‘It seems a sensible compromise’

It seems a sensible compromise to allow some level of mixing at an important time of year for lots of people. I think there was a risk that the government would just say you could do anything, and mix as many households as you like, and that would certainly be really bad.

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I’ve had coronavirus, and it was the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. I had pneumonia, and I was off work for a month. Even now it’s affecting my lung capacity, and my taste and smell are still gone, so I understand the risk, particularly to my family members who are high risk.

For a lot of people, particularly older people, Christmas can be a really lonely time. I’ve managed quite well during lockdown with my own mental health, but I know family and friends who’ve found it a lot harder. My mum has had anxiety attacks for the first time in her life. As much as anything, seeing family can rejuvenate you a little bit. That for me is the main focus, being able to see people who can lift you.

Normally we have four households at Christmas, so we’re still navigating the family politics and working out what we’ll do. We might make two bubbles, or just one of three households. It’s very frustrating.
Callum, 28, Yorkshire


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