Despite Covid threat, Edinburgh's Hogmanay party gets the go-ahead as London cancels its main New Year event – Stephen Jardine

When it comes to celebrating Hogmanay this year, Edinburgh is the only one place to be. That is if you want to start 2022 worrying about Covid.

Friday, 29th October 2021, 4:45 pm
Fireworks light up the sky above Edinburgh Castle as part of Hogmanay celebrations in 2015, long before Covid hit (Picture: Ross Gilmore/Getty Images for Unicef)

With rates of transmission fluctuating and lots of concern about pressure on the NHS over the winter, London’s giant fireworks party has been cancelled for the second year running.

“Due to the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 epidemic, our famous New Year celebration will not take place on the banks of the Thames this year,” said a spokesman for London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Here in Scotland, we face the same uncertainty and this week Glasgow cancelled both its Christmas market and festive lights switch-on. In Edinburgh, the organisers of Hogmanay are taking a different approach, by carrying on regardless.

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True, the numbers will be restricted this year with only 30,000 allowed rather than the usual 75,000. Tickets holders will also need a vaccine passport to access the event but that misses the point.

Any mass gathering risks becoming a super-spreading event. Despite having to provide negative tests to attend, more than 500 Covid cases were linked to the TRNSMT music festival in September and that is likely to have been just the tip of the iceberg. Edinburgh also brings an added risk with international travellers from around the world attracted to the street party and now able to attend.

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The organisers can put whatever mitigations they want in place in terms of numbers and advice, but add alcohol and the high spirits attached to the biggest night of the year and the risks are obvious.

We need to get back to normal as quickly as we can. The impact on the economy and mental health stretches well beyond the terrible death toll of Covid itself.

But we also need to concentrate on the essentials, keeping children in schools, allowing businesses to recover and hospitality to remain open and ensuring people can meet up with loved ones whenever they want.

Events like Edinburgh’s Hogmanay street party are great in normal times but they are anything but essential. Mass gatherings of tens of thousands of revellers can wait for another time. That’s what they decided in London and that is what we should have decided here.

However there are plenty of people pushing to get things like Edinburgh’s Hogmanay back in the calendar. From the organisers to the alcohol brands to the sponsors clamouring for exposure, there is a big fat web of self-interest at work driving decisions and trying to silence any suggestions the event actually needed a fundamental overhaul.

Hogmanay will still happen with all the promise of better times ahead, but what we don’t need right now is a return to business as usual with just a reduced capacity. As we are seeing with the climate summit in Glasgow this weekend, any mass gathering risks a spike in cases.

Nearing the two-year anniversary of the start of the Covid nightmare, that is the last thing we need in Scotland’s capital city.

Until now, the approach to the pandemic in Scotland has been more generally cautious than in England. Hogmanay represents a change to that. Let’s hope the first big resolution of next year involves not letting greed and avarice cloud our judgement.

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