The government’s decision to place parts of the country into Tier 4 restrictions – a level that we didn’t know existed until yesterday – has been met with significant backlash, with the main criticism focusing on the last-minute U-turn on household mixing over Christmas and another failure of the tier system.
Kings Cross-St Pancras was flooded with people last night, with thousands fleeing London to get back home in time for Christmas with their family before the new Tier 4 stopped them from doing so. The packed platforms, with no social distancing and lax adherence to mask wearing, begs the question over whether there was an alternative path for Britain to forge; with European leaders such as Angela Merkel cancelling Christmas some weeks ago, and Labour’s Keir Starmer questioning the wiseness of the travel window in the face of a new strain of Covid-19 just days ago.
Another major question was over the Tier system, which has now twice failed at containing the virus. England were plunged into a second national lockdown in November following the failure of the Tier’s and the devolved administration’s similar restrictions have also led us to a point where it feels a third lockdown in January will be inevitable.
One harsh critic of the measures has been Labour activist George Aylett, who has long been criticising the wisdom of a Tier system that has clearly failed before.
“Just two days ago […] Boris Johnson said we don’t want to ban Christmas because it would be inhumane. Today, he announces Tier 4 for millions of people and Christmas is cancelled.”
“Yet all of this could have been avoided if the government just followed the science.”
The Tier system has been criticised by many as being a light touch when the government needs to take far harsher restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, with George Aylett highlighting that under Tier 3, people could still “move around the country” to lower-tier areas.
Although there are restrictions in place within the areas, there is nothing to prevent people from leaving a Tier 3 area – or now even a Tier 4 area, despite Chris Whitty urging people to unpack their bags if they planned to visit family – to head to a less restricted place and go to the pub, potentially resulting in an even larger spread than if there were no tiers at all.
With hospitality closed in Tier 3 and now Tier 4 areas, people have an incentive to travel outside of their area where there are higher infections and potentially bring the virus with them; although in theory people should not be travelling, the government’s light-touch approach has meant that this is common practice throughout the country.
George Aylett had criticised this some days before the new Tier 4 restrictions were announced, suggesting instead that a new national lockdown should be put in place, and that people should be given a “universal basic income” in order to help them through an undoubtedly difficult Christmas period – with these measures also being extended into the future.
Almost two weeks ago, Angela Merkel – in an emotional address to the German people – said that she could not justify waiving restrictions for Christmas, with the result potentially being thousands more dead from the virus. The speech, delivered three weeks before Christmas day, laid out the grim reality for the German people and won her plaudits for the compassion and decisiveness of the decision.
Boris Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford instead promised Christmas with a semblance of normality (Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster is still promising this) – allowing families to meet up during a six-day window – only dashing their hopes less than a week before Christmas Day. Now Tier 4 areas in London and the South-East must stay in their households – potentially leaving many young people who live away from their families alone for Christmas – with families across the rest of Scotland, Wales and England only able to meet on Christmas Day; even then they are advised against doing so.
Most people accept the need for the tough Christmas measures, but the promise of normality and a “Merry Little Christmas” has destroyed the hope that many had felt and may be the final straw in Boris Johnson’s U-turn filled leadership.
“In 2015, the Conservatives accused Jeremy Corbyn of potentially cancelling Christmas for not sending out a Christmas Day message; five years later Boris Johnson has cancelled Christmas, lost thousands of lives and is likely sending the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal”.