Bishop calls for Christmas Day 'amnesty' over Covid rules to prevent depression and isolation

Dan Sanderson
·3 min read
Scots have been warned to prepare for a 'digital Christmas' - Leon Neal/Getty
Scots have been warned to prepare for a 'digital Christmas' - Leon Neal/Getty

The Catholic Church in Scotland has called for coronavirus restrictions to be suspended on Christmas Day and warned that current threats to the festive season risk creating depression and isolation.

John Keenan, The Bishop of Paisley and vice president of the Bishops' Conference of Scotland, backed a 24-hour “ceasefire” of rules, which he compared to the temporary end to hostilities on Western Front during the First World War.

Last week, Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s National Clinical Director, warned Scots to prepare for a “digital Christmas” and said hopes of traditional large family gatherings were “fiction”.

While Nicola Sturgeon has insisted it is too early to say what rules will be in place in two months’ time, her five-tier system for local lockdowns published last week offers little prospect of a normal Christmas, with significant curbs on indoor gatherings proposed even in areas with low virus rates.

Watch: Nicola Sturgeon outlines five levels of coronavirus restrictions in Scotland

Bishop Keenan said: "Perhaps we should consider a Christmas 'circuit-breaker'. A 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations, a break in the war on Covid, just like the pause in the First World War on the Western Front in 1914, when the British and German troops laid down their guns and met in no man's land to celebrate Christmas."

He added: "Couldn't we allow for one day of normality in the midst of our relentless war against the virus? Think of the hope and happiness that would give. A moment of joy in the midst of so much despair.

"The effects of a depressed and isolated Christmas could be devastating for many, leaving an emotional and social legacy that no vaccine could cure.”

While there has been speculation that the UK Government will consider a temporary easing of restrictions in England on Christmas Day, Ms Sturgeon has previously played down the prospect of this being adopted north of the border.

She has pointed out that members of other faiths in Scotland have already seen their religious celebrations severely disrupted as a result of rules designed to protect the public from Covid-19.

Nicola Sturgeon has said it is too early to say what rules will be in place - Jeff J Mitchell/AFP
Nicola Sturgeon has said it is too early to say what rules will be in place - Jeff J Mitchell/AFP

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "Decisions on whether to introduce additional protective measures will continue to be guided by the latest available scientific and clinical evidence.

"We understand that people will naturally be anxious about whether they will be able to visit relatives over the festive period.

"The new levels approach we announced this week, if approved by the Scottish Parliament, will enable us to adapt our response to coronavirus more effectively.”

She added: "The more we do now to suppress transmission of the virus, the more likely we will have fewer restrictions in place at Christmas.

"However, given the rapidly-changing nature of the pandemic it is simply not possible to predict at this stage what restrictions may or may not be required over the Christmas and New Year holiday period."

Watch: How will England's three-tier local lockdown system work?