The Nativity in the time of Covid
For the purposes of this discussion, Nazareth and Bethlehem are treated as if they are in Tier 4 Covid regulations
In light of the new regulations, who in the story of the Nativity would have found themselves in receipt of a financial penalty, or worse?
The Angel Gabriel
The story of the Nativity begins with Angel Gabriel visiting Mary and informing her that she would give birth to the son of God.
Unfortunately for Gabriel, they have travelled into a Tier 4 area, something which is specifically prohibited under Section 1 of the new Covid regulations. However, Gabriel can seek to rely on the ‘reasonable excuse’ or that he is providing care to another. It would seem, in the circumstances, that Gabriel can satisfy the evidential burden of showing reasonable excuse in that he was delivering the news of the arrival of the son of God.
But, even if there is a reasonable excuse, Gabriel and Mary have gathered indoors in private premises. Assuming that Gabriel is not in Mary’s support bubble, this is a clear breach of the Covid regulations and both Gabriel and Mary could find themselves in receipt of a hefty fine. They should have agreed to meet outdoors, in a group of no more than two, so that the news could be delivered in a Covid compliant manner.
The Journey to Bethlehem
Mary and Joseph then had to travel to Bethlehem. This is in breach of the blanket ‘stay-at-home’ order currently in place. However, the journey was directed by Caesar Augustus for the purpose of all individuals returning to their ancestral towns (Joseph having been born in Bethlehem). This was so that the world could be taxed. This would likely be viewed as a reasonable excuse and so permitted under the Covid regulations. If Mary and Joseph were, as it appears, registering where they live — this could also be considered an activity ancillary to voting and so permitted under Exception 13.
Mary and Joseph could also claim that they were moving to a new house, another exception permitted under Section 2(f)(iv) of the new regulations.
No Room at the Inn
Mary and Joseph’s travel have been dealt with. We turn now to consider the inn-keeper. This is a man who could be in real trouble. Section 14 of the new regulations is extremely clear, any person providing travel accommodation in a Tier 4 area must cease to provide that accommodation. However, luckily for the inn-keeper, the government has provided a vast number of exemptions, which include:
- Where an individual is unable to return to their main place of residence
- Where accommodation is needed for the purpose of a house move
- Providing accommodation for carers of a vulnerable person
Pertinently, Section 14(3) provides an exception which does not prevent the use of accommodation “for the purposes of voting, counting of votes or activities ancillary to voting or the counting of votes in an election or referendum”. The defence of the inn-keeper would therefore turn on the following:
- Whether Mary and Joseph were unable to return to their main place of residence
- Whether they needed the accommodation in the stable for the purpose of a house move
- Whether, at the time, Mary would be considered a vulnerable person and Joseph to be her carer by virtue of her carrying the unborn son of God
It has all the makings of a three to four week trial, perhaps in 2023.
As for those individuals who the inn-keeper provided accommodation to in actual rooms, the issue would be whether Section 14(3) was intended to cover those who are travelling to register as an activity ‘ancillary to voting’. Unsurprisingly, there’s no clear guidance on this point.
Birth of Jesus
No real concerns here, the animals in the stable aren’t caught by the Covid regulations. Jesus appears to have been born in fairly Covid compliant circumstances.
The Shepherds have breached the stay-at-home order. However, it’s unclear whether they actually have homes and the new Covid regulations specifically do not apply to the homeless (unlike the original regulations). Even if they have left their homes, it does appear to have been reasonably necessary for them to have been outside their homes for the purposes of their work. No Covid breaches from the Shepherds. At least until now.
The Shepherds then travel to the birth of baby Jesus. They could try and rely on Exception (4) which refers to ‘medical need etc’. Subsection (d) allows an individual to be outside their home to attend a person giving birth. Sadly for the Shepherds, this only arises if the person giving birth has requested that they attend — Mary doesn’t appear to have made such a request.
The Shepherds, in fairness to them, did receive a message from God informing them that his son had been born and they would find him in Bethlehem. It does appear that they have been given a direction to attend the stable for the purposes of worship. It is a permitted exception under Section 2(e) to attend a place of worship, it would seem reasonable to assume that a stable with the son of God would qualify as a place of worship.
The gathering of the Shepherds, Mary and Joseph is also a qualified exception of communal worship. In sum, whilst risky, the Shepherds do appear to have a defence to their various failures to comply with the stay-at-home order.
The Three Wise Men
The Wise Men (or Kings — all men are equal under the Covid regulations as the President of Chile — Sebastian Pinera — showed us), may not be so wise after all. They did not receive a message from an angel or from God, their message came from the stars. It was said that a great ‘Ruler’ had been born.
The Wise Men travelled to see King Herod to meet the new ruler. This is where the importance comes of what their exact purpose is. The bible, in certain versions at least, does suggest that upon reaching Jerusalem, that the Three Wise Men stated: “Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east, and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:1-12). If that is correct, and their travel was for the purpose of worship, we can afford them a defence.
Upon reaching King Herod he directed them to find the son of God so that Herod could worship him himself. This would appear, on balance, to now afford them with a reasonable excuse and so the Three Wise Men are back on a law-abiding footing. The Wise Men then attend Jesus and provide him with gifts, this gathering once again most probably qualifies as a permitted gathering for the purposes of worship.
However, a final word of warning for the Shepherds, the Wise Men, Mary and Joseph (baby Jesus does not appear to qualify for the Covid regulations as he is under the age of 5, in any event the age of criminal responsibility in the UK is 10). If the stable were to be viewed as private premises, then they would all be in breach of the Covid regulations, regardless of the purpose of their attendance at the venue.
It appears that most, if not arguably all of the story of the Nativity is at least arguably Covid compliant. Although it is far from clear. The issue of activities ancillary to voting would be hotly debated in the Supreme Court, whether a stable is private premises would make for rich reading in the Court of Appeal.
What it does show, is that the drafting of the regulations is so unclear and broad that you could probably argue just about anything. Although on balance, I’ll probably just stay at home. Merry Christmas.