This Sunday (November 29th) marks Advent, the traditional start of the festive season. The Christmas period will be very different this year in so many ways.
From door-to-door carol singing to children meeting Father Christmas in our town centres, there will be fewer Christmas events for us to enjoy – or maybe they will just be done in a different way. The office Christmas bash may no longer be that meal in a favoured restaurant but rather a few nibbles over yet another Zoom call.
One of the most cherished parts of Christmas is spending time with family and loved ones. People will travel many miles and make huge efforts to get to spend Christmas with family or close friends. We see this theme in so many Christmas films and in the words of that Christmas radio favourite ‘Driving Home for Christmas’.
Two weeks ago I spoke about this in Parliament when we were debating the new lockdown restrictions in England. I urged the Health Minister Matt Hancock to ensure that all four home nations work together to draw up a single set of clear and consistent rules for the Christmas period.
With so many people inevitably criss-crossing the country to see loved ones, having different rules in different parts of the country could be a recipe for chaos.
So, I’m pleased that earlier this week the UK and devolved governments were able to reach agreement on a common framework of rules that will be in place between December 23rd and 27th. Up to three households will be able to join together to form an exclusive Christmas ‘bubble’. Hopefully this gives greater clarity and certainty for people wanting to travel and socialise.
But, while the rules may be relaxed for these 5 days, it cannot be a ‘free-for-all’. People will need to exercise caution and make good judgements about the risks of social mixing. People in Pembrokeshire have worked incredibly hard to ensure low rates of transmission. We must not allow the good work to be undone, just as a vaccine appears imminent that could pave the way for widespread relaxation of some of the toughest restrictions.
On vaccines, this week we heard more about the vaccine being developed by Oxford University in partnership with AstraZeneca. While early reports show that it has an effectiveness up to 90%, what could potentially be the defining aspect of this vaccine is that it is much cheaper and easier to store.
The UK Government has already ordered 100m doses and AstraZeneca has committed to making the vaccine available on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic. While all the vaccines still have further tests to pass, there is something inspirational about seeing this 'battle of the brains' to find a scientific solution to Covid-19 that will enable the world to return to something like it was before.
The roll-out of the vaccine will focus on the most at-risk groups first, with people in care homes and the over-80s at the front of the queue. Care home workers and health and social care staff are also a priority, because they could potentially pass the virus on to vulnerable people.
After these groups, the plan is to offer the vaccine to everyone else based on age, from oldest to youngest. It will be a mammoth task to roll-out this vaccination, needing expert planning and organisation. But it could see us bring an end to this awful period and life return to normal.
As this is my final Blue View article of 2020, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all the readers of The Pembrokeshire Herald a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.