Fears six-month Covid rules could result in end of Christmas grottoes

Santa’s grotto may be absent from the high street this Christmas following the warning that new coronavirus restrictions will likely last well into the new year.

Boris Johnson outlined a series of England-wide measures on Tuesday, including hospitality curfews and greater enforcement of the so-called “rule of six” limitations on social gatherings.

The Prime Minister told the Commons to “assume that the restrictions I have announced will remain in place for perhaps six months”, as the country heads into the winter months off the back of a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

Ministry of Fun Santa School photocall
Ministry of Fun Santa School photocall

James Lovell, director of the Ministry of Fun Santa School, which supplies Father Christmas performers, he was “optimistic” about the future of grottoes – but said it was likely the bearded present-bearer would likely conduct many salutations over the internet.

Mr Lovell told the PA news agency: “Unfortunately we have to face the very real possibility that Father Christmas will be doing lots of meetings and greetings over the internet this year.

“We’re not getting too panicky and thinking that Christmas is ruined, we are just having to think about how Father Christmas can meet with people this year – it may have to be on smart phones and iPads and tablets instead of face-to-face. We’ve done it before, with children who are abroad or in hospital.

“We are still waiting for so many of our regular customers to get in touch (about grottoes) – it isn’t that people have cancelled, it’s that they haven’t said yes yet.

“It does suggest the hesitation we’ve experienced will continue and that doesn’t look great for grottoes.”

Ministry of Fun Santa School photocall
Ministry of Fun Santa School photocall

Mr Lovell said the current restrictions meant families would still be able to visit in small numbers, with Covid-compliant measures already in place including social distancing between Father Christmas and the child.

He said: “We will be doing everything to make sure we don’t just shut down, we want to make sure everyone gets a bit of Christmas magic.”

Elsewhere, festive markets and theatres are facing the prospect of an uncertain winter period.

Organisers behind Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas market are among those to have already cancelled.

Spokesman Kurt Stroscher said: “Under no circumstances did we want the Christmas market to become a place that promotes the pandemic.

“Therefore, the right decision could only be to not bring the market to Birmingham this year. We will now concentrate all our efforts on 2021 in order to return with an impressive Christmas market in its recognisable form.”

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, urged the Government to set out “a comprehensive support package” for businesses affected.

He said: “Businesses understand that further restrictions are necessary to tackle the rising number of coronavirus cases, but these measures will impact business and consumer confidence at a delicate time for the economy.”

Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband warned the hospitality sector, wedding industry, sports clubs and more “face new Covid restrictions and are approaching a furlough cliff-edge”, calling for public health measures to be matched by economic support.

Ex-party spin doctor Alastair Campbell put it more bluntly on Twitter, writing: “Christmas is cancelled – exactly as Boris Johnson said it wouldn’t be.”