Lockdown may be eased in December – but don’t expect a normal Christmas!

We’re now halfway through the second lockdown and I’m now feeling both optimistic and pessimistic about the world we will emerge into once the current restrictions end on December 2.

On the upside, I’m pretty sure that many of the restrictions will be lifted – particularly so far as retail is concerned. We’ll be able to go shopping in Primark and Debenhams again. The independent traders will be able to reopen their doors to Christmas shoppers.

The closure of “non-essential” shops during the current lockdown really has been highly controversial this time around – and was always going to cause problems when there are so many stores selling a wide range of goods.

MORE: Should these shops be trading during lockdown?

Big superstores sell everything. If you need a new pair or fancy a new Christmas jumper you can pop into Asda and get it with your pizza and fresh fruit. If you try to seal off the “non-essential” aisles you get to the situation we had in Wales a month ago when shoppers whose kettle had broken couldn’t buy a new one from the local Tesco because its electrical section was taped off.

It’s the same with household stores like B&M and The Range. They can quite legitimately point out that they sell a range of mostly non-perishable foodstuffs – but also some other items that most people do consider essential. If you need some new lightbulbs that’s pretty vital.

I suspect the government will recognise this when lockdown ends – and providing new infection rates are not accelerating rapidly all shops will be allowed to reopen.

However I really cannot see us all emerging into the same level of restrictions we were facing when the second lockdown started at the beginning of November unless there is a truly dramatic fall in the infection rate over the next fortnight.

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I don’t really expect that to happen – I suspect that the best we can hope for is that the rate of infections has levelled off – but even then hospital admissions and deaths may well still be rising as they tend to lag behind infection numbers.

How can it be safe to reopen pubs and restaurants for indoor events when the infection rates are so high? How can people who don’t live together be allowed to gather for Christmas when the NHS is now really starting to struggle to keep up with new Covid infections?

The news of new vaccines that we have heard over the last two weeks has been fantastic. There is a real prospect that by the second half of 2021 we could be emerging from this Covid nightmare – but the fact is, we are still months away from being able to relax and acting as if there isn’t a silent killer out there stalking the streets.

Yet there are a minority of people out there behaving as if they don’t have to worry about the pandemic – and life can go on as normal. That is why Ipswich Council has had to go on the offensive and issue a clear warning to people to obey social distancing rules and not behave in a reckless and selfish way.

Since that warning was published I’ve heard from people who were concerned about other parents they had seen waiting for children at school mingling with their friends and paying no heed at all to the two-metre social distancing rules.

When I heard about how council test and trace staff had identified many cases in the same street – or many cases where people shared the same surname, you can see how the infection was being spread.

MORE: Ipswich council warns about rising infection rates

Covid-19 is relatively infectious – but it doesn’t spread if you wave at a neighbour across the road or if you keep a reasonable distance between yourself and a relative during a walk in the park. It is spread by close contact, usually indoors.

One thing that did strike me when working on the story about the warning to Ipswich residents was the comment from the county’s public health department that the virus was spread in homes and by people getting together – it was not spread by people shopping or going into the town on the bus. That is another reason for retailers to feel hopeful about December 2.

I’m not sure that four weeks of lockdown in itself was ever going to create the conditions where we could have enjoyed a “normal” Christmas – and this time it has certainly lacked the urgency that seemed to be universally felt in April.

While the majority have obeyed the rules, it has always seemed that a significant minority have seen it as an unnecessary imposition and have accepted any restrictions grudgingly – looking for the loopholes.

And the fact is that is not an attitude that is really conducive to battling a pandemic like Covid-19.

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