People bereaved by Covid-19 have warned that allowing families in the UK to get together over Christmas is “sheer madness” and urged the public to have a low-key festive period rather than risk the grief they have endured.
Members of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group told the Guardian that large family gatherings were too high-risk, with one grieving husband saying anyone prepared to mix family groups should also “prepare for a funeral”.
The stark warnings came alongside acknowledgement that limited contact would be good for mental health. But it also reflects a wider feeling among many of the bereaved that, with coronavirus vaccines in sight, any fresh increase in deaths must be seen as unacceptable.
On Tuesday, the government briefed that three households will be allowed to mix for five days from 23 December. Public health experts predict it will increase infection but allow isolated families to come back together before a return to stricter lockdown conditions in January.
Bev Mead, 59, who lost her mother to coronavirus, described it as a “terrifying prospect – it’s literally like sacrificing your loved ones for a slice of turkey and some brussels sprouts”.
Shelly Weeks compared the policy to “playing Russian roulette”. “The death rate will soar after Christmas, and again the government will deny they did anything wrong,” she said. “Can’t people just wait an extra few months when hopefully the vaccine is being rolled out? I know I’ve lost and am grieving but people need to look at the bigger picture.”
Louise Birkett, who lost her 80-year-old mother, Dilys, said the policy seemed to be an acknowledgment that people would have breached tighter restrictions at Christmas, but added: “I hope that the families who do take advantage don’t suffer the way we have.”
“If people knew the true risk, they would not take it,” said Sam Swales, whose partner, a key worker in the oil and gas industry, died from Covid. “We have a potential end in sight and we need to focus on saving as many lives as possible. There should be a massive campaign to encourage people to have a low-key Christmas.”
Their comments came as Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, told a Commons committee: “The virus doesn’t care if it’s Christmas. We still have pretty high prevalence across the country. It is risky for people to mix indoors with alcohol with elderly relatives at this point in time.”
Tony Fitzgerald, 65, who lost his wife, Ann, also 65, said: “The younger, fitter, healthier people out there may very well be infected and pull through. Would your gran, grandad or any older relative come through if infected? If you’re prepared to take that risk, be prepared for a funeral, it might be the last time you see them.”
However, Becky Kummer, whose 77-year-old father, Peter, died in April, said the Christmas bubbles plan was the “right decision under difficult circumstances”, as it would be good for mental health and morale.
“There is still of course a huge risk with mixing this way and it will be awful if stories emerge of whole families getting infected, and worse,” she said. “But I think if they had said we all need to stay with the lockdown we currently have, people would’ve broken the rules anyway.”