The Guardian view on the Christmas break: no thanks to Boris Johnson | Editorial
Spending time with family matters enormously to human beings. There was a spectacular reminder of that truth this week. DNA from the bones and teeth of 35 people who were buried more than 5,700 years ago in a neolithic tomb in the Cotswolds showed that, fully 700 years before work began on Stonehenge, 27 of the 35 were biological relatives from five generations, including small children. The realities of neolithic life are mostly unimaginable to us today. In their care for family, on the other hand, these otherwise distant communities seem vividly relatable.
What was true in prehistory is also true now. This weekend will be its annual embodiment. For most people, the Christmas holiday is the pre-eminent family occasion of the year. Its religious significance has long been secondary to its social importance. For both good and ill, this is a family time. There will be many lonely and hungry people this weekend, and there is invariably a frightening spike in domestic violence. Yet, in spite of Covid curbs, the spread of Omicron and disruptions on road and rail, around half of Britain’s population still plans to visit relatives.
After the enforced isolation of Christmas 2020, this is no surprise. But, simultaneously, it is hardly a shock that greater caution than normal abounds in people’s shopping, socialising and travel behaviours. This year has been very different from the typical pre-pandemic Christmas, partly because so many staff in all parts of the economy have gone down with Omicron, but also because the combined effect of the past 20 months and the new variant’s high transmissibility means that the public is rightly cautious. The possibility of a renewed lockdown and a repetition of the last-minute disruption of 12 months ago has added to the collective restraint. The impact on some sectors of the economy has been devastating.
It is a huge relief that Christmas is going ahead across the whole of Britain. Individuals need their break. So do families, communities and nations. The pressure on children has been damaging. The stress for elderly people is particularly palpable. Yet the holiday go-ahead has been a close-run thing. News that there will be no further announcements of new Covid rules in England was only confirmed by the health secretary, Sajid Javid, less than two days before the holiday. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all been compelled to tweak and tighten their post-Christmas arrangements right up to the last moment. Future restrictions remain very possible.
Any idea that all this is a political triumph for Boris Johnson is untrue. In the context of his past mishandling and rule-breaking, and the human losses that have flowed from his approach, the suggestion is immoral. Politically, Mr Johnson has been desperate for Christmas to go ahead, partly because he is a hedonist, partly to avoid a repetition of 2020, partly because it is a tabloid campaigning issue, but also because an intimidatingly large part of his party is recklessly opposed to any restrictions at all. Even Mr Johnson knows that the real issue here is whether, and to what extent, the economy and society can be kept going without the NHS buckling under the strain. Much of his party does not care.
In this context, the possibility that the impact of Omicron on individuals may be less severe than feared is good news, if confirmed, but it is not a vindication of Mr Johnson’s handling of the pandemic. If a large section of the Tory party had had its libertarian way, Britain’s record infections, deaths and hospitalisation tallies would be larger still. It is great that the Christmas holiday is here, but the credit for that belongs to the good sense of the majority of the British public, not to the folly of their incompetent and divided government.