Even as the tins of Quality Street start to appear in the shops, and kids begin the final draft of their letters to Santa, it’s very clear that this coming Christmas will be unlike any other in living memory. In some ways, it feels very difficult to celebrate when we live in a climate of such uncertainty and fear. Thousands of families are grieving lost loved ones, and many more still are suffering with the pernicious after-effects of ‘long Covid’. We know too that many people have struggled mentally due to periods of isolation and loneliness in lockdown, as well as the economic uncertainty that the virus has precipitated.
Across Bristol South, many retail, hospitality and travel businesses will be dreading what would normally be their busiest time of year. Instead of welcoming festive crowds ready to spend a year’s carefully considered Christmas savings, employers and employees will be anxiously calculating and recalculating how long their reserves will last in the face of ongoing restrictions. And far harder still are the unimaginable difficulties confronting those people who have lost their jobs amidst the pandemic, through absolutely no fault of their own.
But as difficult as this past year has been – and as Christmas will be for so many – there are nonetheless reasons for us to be cautiously optimistic about what the new year will bring.
The first is something that has constantly given me hope and cause for optimism even at the hardest points of this year – our fantastic community in Bristol South. The most difficult times bring out the best in people, and we’ve seen this across our constituency in 2020. Whether it was the volunteers delivering food to those shielding, the neighbourhood organisations that formed to look out for the most vulnerable, or the amazing key workers of our NHS and other vital public services, the pandemic has shown just how many kind, compassionate and public-spirited citizens live amongst us. I am grateful to each and every one of them.
The second thing giving us cause for hope is the news that the Pfizer vaccine is showing positive levels of effectiveness against Covid-19. Of course there are still – quite rightly – regulatory hurdles to be overcome. And rolling out the vaccine will require a massive logistical effort. But we have still taken a significant step. Although we were optimistic, we did not previously know whether or not our brilliant scientists would be able to develop a vaccine that offered protection against Covid-19 – now we know that they can. And though it won’t be next week or next month or even the beginning of next year, we can have confidence that at some point in the not too distant future our lives will return to normal and we will be able to hug our loved ones, see our most vulnerable relatives, and gather with our friends to celebrate and commiserate life’s major milestones.
The vaccine breakthrough – borne as it is of an internationally collaborative effort – reinforces a growing sense of faith across the world that by coming together to fight our biggest challenges, we can make progress. We saw it in the United States, with President-Elect Joe Biden’s immediate focus after having the election called in his favour was not just to take positive action to tackle Covid-19 and climate change, but to bring people together and heal a nation riven by searing political rows.
So while this Christmas will of course be unusual – and so incredibly hard for so many people – let’s try and take hope from the chinks of light that have appeared this year. If we’re able, let’s resolve to reach out to a struggling neighbour or check in on our vulnerable family and friends. Let’s show our gratitude for the brilliant key workers who have put themselves at risk to protect us. And let’s put our faith in the power of scientific progress and of international cooperation and collaboration, to lead to a brighter 2021.