Letting families celebrate at Christmas is good for our mental health, say Sage experts

ALLOWING families time together at Christmas could help avoid a mental health crisis, Sage experts said.

Scientists who advise Number 10 fear the consequences of blocking ‘valued’ time with friends and family.

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They said suppressing "social mixing can lead to negative emotions", including depression.

It could also cause anger and conflict, with frustrations directed at those who have imposed the measures.

If people cannot see each other, they will break the rules anyway, it was claimed, meeting in places that are not Covid safe.

The stark warning was made in an official paper from the SPI-B, a sub-group of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine, University of East Anglia, said not allowing people to be together could be dangerous for their mental health.

He commented this week: "The benefits on people’s mental health of being to meet up with family over this time should not be underestimated.

"Carley and colleagues undertook a systematic review of the literature and found that suicides declined over Christmas.

“My personal view is that relaxing the rules will have sufficient benefits to justify the additional risks for the Covid epidemic."

SAGE, which helps steer the Government’s handling of the crisis by providing scientific information, discussed the paper at a meeting on October 22.

A month later, on Monday, it was revealed the Government were going to relax the rules over Christmas so loved ones can celebrate together.

However, care home residents are still not allowed visitors, and can only go home to their families if they are under 65 years of age.

Gavin Terry, head of policy at Alzheimer's Society, called it "heartbreaking" and said thousands of relatives would be in "complete despair" at the guidelines.

The leading charity called for a national rollout of testing so that visits can be safe to "keep the spirit of Christmas alive".

"A difficult year"

The decision to free people from social restrictions over Christmas was made to give families a break at the end of "an incredibly difficult year" – despite daily cases and deaths still being high.

It comes after months of misery under lockdowns, in which mental health problems have spiked.

Almost one in five adults experienced some form of depression during the pandemic, double the figure pre-Covid, data from the Office for National Statistics in June revealed.

The Government has chosen to avoid clamping down on socialising this Christmas, thought to be an "emotive decision".

Dr Nibedita Ray-Bennett, an associate professor in risk management at University of Leicester, told The Sun: "In my opinion, 'the relaxation for five days' is an emotive decision, not based on science.

"It is a decision of high risk with high impact. Sadly, the impact will be evident through the increase in the number of deaths.

"We will lose lives. For some, this decision could lead to their last Christmas."

What can I do and not do at Christmas?

Can my gran and grandad join us for Christmas?


Any three households can join together to form a Christmas bubble – so granny and grandad can come round for the Turkey dinner.

But the government is urging Brits to show common sense and caution when interacting with very vulnerable people in their festive bubble.

Can I hug them or should we be socially distant?

While you can hug granny because social distancing rules are scrapped in festive bubbles, you should show caution, particularly if they are old or sick.

Can my grandparent leave a care home to join us?

If granny or grandad is in a care home and over 65, they cannot leave to join your new bubble.

They can if they are under 65 and get a negative Covid test.

What happens if we burst the bubble and the step-mum arrives unexpectedly?

This is against the rules. When three households come together to form a Christmas bubble it is exclusive – you cannot leave it and no one else can join it.

But if step-mum arrives, do not expect the cops to turn up at your door. Ministers are urging Brits to voluntarily abide by the rules – they are not expecting police to enforce them.

Is there a maximum number of people allowed in my Christmas bubble?

No, it’s just based on a maximum of three households. 

How should I travel to see my Christmas bubble?

You will be able to travel across all tiers and across all four home nations but the Government is urging people to plan and book journeys in advance, with major disruption and capacity problems expected on the railways. 

Can I see people outside of my bubble?

Yes – but only if you stick to the rules in your tier.

For Brits living in Tier 2 and 3 – which is expected to be the vast majority of the country – this means you can only meet up with people outdoors.

In Tier 1 you can meet up with people if you stick to the rule of six.

Can I go to the pub with my Christmas bubble?

No – you can only meet up with them in private homes, at Church or in a public space, such as a walk in the park.

You can go to the pub in tier 1 with up to six others inside. In tier 2 you can only go with your household inside, or up to six people outside.

In Tier 3 they will be closed.

What about New Year’s?

These bubbles do not apply to New Year’s, which will be governed by the regional tiers policy. 

Can my household split up and form different bubbles?

Yes, a mum and dad could decide to spend Christmas separately by forming their own Christmas bubbles.

This also applies to a group of people in their 20s who share a flat but can all return to their family homes, for example. But this may only apply in England.

Take caution

The four devolved nations have allowed three households to exclusively bubble together for five days between December 23 and 27.

Relatives and friends are permitted to hug each other after months because social distancing rules will be dropped between those households.

But Boris Johnson has told families they must “think carefully” and make a “personal judgement” about the risks of coronavirus to vulnerable loved ones.

At a press conference on Monday evening, he said December is “not the moment to let the virus rip for the sake of Christmas parties”, adding: “‘Tis the season to be jolly, but it is also the season to be jolly careful, especially with elderly relatives.”


Reaction to the decision has been mixed.

Dr Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at Royal Society of Medicine, told The Sun: "I do think for those who want to do it, it will be good to have some loosening of the rules."

But he said five days was "excessive" and would "feed the virus".

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: “Close personal contact is the main way this virus transmits and it should be possible to celebrate without letting the virus spread.

“Feeling well does not guarantee that you don’t have the virus: kissing your grandparents may be delivering a deadly dose of virus. Be pleased to see them but keep a safe distance.”

Ministers have also decided to open hairdressers and beauty salons in the lead up to the festive period, even in Tier 3, to "boost morale".

It’s been revealed this morning which areas will fall into the toughest Tier 3 this morning when the country comes out of lockdown on December 2.

Rule breaking

Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, has also warned that if clampdowns on socialising continued over Christmas, people might flout the rules anyway.

He told BBC Breakfast yesterday a pause on restrictions had to come from officials, otherwise it would be a "free-for-all" if people were told Christmas had been “cancelled”.

He warned without boundaries – three households are permitted to meet this Christmas – people may have had large gatherings.

The SPI-B told ministers if people were banned from seeing friends and family, they should instead encouraging big summer parties.

The document said: "Whenever announcing that a particular form of social interaction needs to be avoided, then actively propose and support less risky forms of mixing.

"These could include carrying out the activity at a later date e.g. planning a summer family get together to replace meeting at Christmas.”

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