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'Drinks on the pavement': UK scientists on their Christmas plans


“It is the season to be jolly – but it’s also the season to be jolly careful,” said Boris Johnson, ahead of setting out plans to ease coronavirus restrictions for five days over the festive season. Three different households will be allowed to mix inside as part of the plan agreed by all UK nations. But leading scientists have sounded a note of caution. Here is what they plan to do to this Christmas.

Dr Julian Tang, clinical virologist and honorary associate professor in the respiratory sciences department at the University of Leicester

We’ve agreed to just have Christmas via Zoom/telephone link as we think this is safest. We’re quite used to this now and have been doing it mostly this way for the past 10 months – except for a brief respite in the summer.

Some people cannot survive on just an internet connection, others can – and I think people will make their own risk assessment, based on their own individual needs and circumstances.

Prof Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh

I’m planning a quiet Christmas. I usually go abroad to see family and take some holiday in a hot place (I’m originally from Miami) but given the pandemic, I am staying home within my bubble and planning to meet up with friends outside under current Scottish government guidance.

Prof Susan Michie, director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London and member of the government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavioural Science (SPI-B)

We have several households that usually come together, but we will limit this. With one household who usually joins us for Christmas Day we are planning to have drinks on the pavement before lunch.

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We will probably spend more time outside and less inside, with more distancing, ventilation and lots of warm clothes! I think everybody will be very careful and inevitably it is going to be low-key. But we will focus on talking about future summer holidays and celebrations, as well as enjoying the day.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London

I am certainly going to stay within any rules that are decided.

Even though I am pretty sure quite a few of the next generation have already caught it either because they work in the health service or they live in London, I am still assuming they could be infectious and not symptomatic. So the fact that they are well I am not allowing to influence my judgment about whether it is safe to go close to them unfortunately.

Prof Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at UCL and a member of the Independent Sage group of scientists

It all depends on the Covid situation in December but our plan is to be extra careful (no meetings outside the household) the 10 days before Christmas, so we can then celebrate with my parents who are both in the extremely vulnerable category. My sister has three teenage kids, so I think they plan to isolate at home for 10 days after school and then see my parents (and me!) after 28 December.

Prof Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group

I will be pondering about the year just gone, celebrating the amazing team of researchers around the world who have worked tirelessly throughout, and the trial participants, the unsung heroes, who have worked with us on developing a vaccine in record time … and enjoying some downtime with my longsuffering family!

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