Last Christmas, as ministers recklessly promised five days of festive family reunions as a new variant accelerated, Boris Johnson held out until the last hours until he bends to the inevitable and cancels Christmas.
Despite the increase in cases in Europe and new restrictions on the continent, ministers have been optimistic as for the continuation of Christmas gatherings this year. Cabinet ministers have already sent out invitations for Christmas drinks.
No 10 was encouraged that a concerted push for the vaccine booster program has seen uptake increase and, although the number of cases remains high, deaths and hospitalizations are kept roughly stable by the immunization program - although they are in higher numbers than many countries could tolerate.
Some scientists warned people should postpone Christmas plans - but caution isnot a word you hear very often on ministers' lips.
Johnson has always hidden his comments when asked about Christmas - about once a week - with the caveat that new variants could derail the plans. Now the worst news has come from South Africa: a variant has emerged, which is feared more transmissible than others and which could potentially escape immunity.
This time, # 10 moved quickly to place South Africa on the red list from Friday noon, with Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatin moi and Zimbabwe. Sources in Whitehall speak in serious terms about the threat posed by the variant, saying it is the most serious threat to the progravaccination from the UK they've seen.
But despite swift action, the UK has recently significantly lowered its guard against the threatens new variants. All countries have been removed from the red list and the government now allows travelers to take a lateral flow test on the second day upon returning from abroad, although those who test positive are also advised to take a PCR.
But because the lateral flow tests are done at home and then discarded, rather than analyzed in the lab, it means there is a delay in sequencing all potential new variants and establishing their origin.
It is too early to tell how the variant poses a threat to Christmas plans. But it will be a blow to more than 100,000 South Africans living in the UK, separated from their families formost of the pandemic and for which trips had only recently opened.