What a horrible way for us to go into Christmas – the news that a new variant of the wretched coronavirus is 70% more transmissible, necessitating the urgent action we have seen for London and the South East and the truncating of all of our Christmas plans. Like many of you, we spent the weekend hastily re-arranging our schedule. Instead of Boxing Day lunch with my mum, I will walk with her (mobility scooter) on Paignton sea front as permitted, not quite the same.
As I understand it, the scientists briefed ministers on Friday 18th that the new variant was much more transmissible, triggering two Cobra meetings, urgent discussions with the leaders of the other three nations, a virtual Cabinet meeting and an announcement to the public at 4pm on Saturday. I commend the government for working at such speed, especially knowing the huge distress the changes would bring.
It is now critical to learn whether the new variant is dealt with by the existing vaccines. The early indicators are positive, but if that is not the case, there will be a delay while an adjustment is made. Most of us recognise that this variant will at the very least delay the moment when we can all embrace again those precious freedoms we have taken for granted for so long. But it will happen.
On top of all that the exhausted Brexit negotiators have still not closed the trade deal. Most of us remain hopeful that with a bit of good will and compromise on both sides, this can still happen by 31st December, but if not shortly thereafter. 98% is agreed! There is hope.
It is important to travel in hope. That is the underlying message of this time of year. It is not really about presents or food and drink, wonderful all of that stuff is. It is not primarily about families gathering, even though that is the hallmark of Christmas for most of us.
It is about an event 2,000 years ago when a baby was born, fulfilling many ancient prophecies. He grew into a man who claimed to be God and who went on to die for us to pave a way back to a relationship with the Creator of the Universe. This gives us genuine long-term hope.
This familiar story can be found on the pages of Luke and Matthew in the Bible. I dare say her Majesty the Queen will mention it too!
It has been a terrible year, but there is still hope. Merry Christmas and a safe New Year.