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A COVID Christmas: What’s allowed during the festive season under tough new rules?

Written by on 19 December 2020

The relaxation of coronavirus rules over the festive season has been heavily curtailed across the UK.

Leaders in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland initially agreed that groups of up to three households could meet at home, outdoors or in a place of worship from 23 to 27 December.

However, following the emergence of a new strain of the virus in the South East, Boris Johnson has announced new rules for Christmas in England, while Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have all adjusted their rules as well.

The five-day Christmas bubble period has been reduced to just Christmas Day for England – and scrapped completely for areas under new Tier 4 rules – but remains for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

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People in the UK are being told ‘a smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas’

What can people in England do over Christmas?

  • Apart from areas in Tier 4, a Christmas bubble of up to three households will be allowed to meet on Christmas Day – not from 23-27 December as was previously announced
  • A Christmas bubble can only meet in a private home, a place of worship or public outdoor spaces
  • Except for those in Tier 4, people can continue to meet others who are not in their Christmas bubble outside their home, but they must adhere to the rules in the tier they are staying in – see the tier explainer here
  • Travel restrictions across the whole of the UK will be lifted on Christmas Day, allowing people to travel across the nations or between local tiers in order to meet with those within their bubble – apart from people in Tier 4 areas
  • Anyone travelling to or from Northern Ireland may travel on the 22 and 28 December, but should only meet with their Christmas bubble between 23 and 27 December
  • Once a bubble is formed, it is fixed and must not be changed or extended further at any point
  • Children under 18 whose parents do not live together may be part of both parents’ Christmas bubbles, if their parents choose to form separate bubbles
  • Students are considered to be part of the household to which they have returned for Christmas and are not treated as part of their term-time household for this period
  • Between 23 and 27 December, people can continue to use a childcare bubble, but only if “reasonably necessary”
  • Existing support bubbles count as one household towards the three-household limit. This means that if you are in a support bubble, you can collectively form a Christmas bubble with two other households

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‘Shorter and smaller Christmas is safer Christmas’

How many households can be in a Christmas bubble?

Initially, the plan across the UK was for up to three households to be allowed to form one Christmas bubble.

However, following a rise in infection rates since the announcement of the Christmas plans, those rules have now changed.

The three household rule still applies in most of England – and is expected to remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland – but in Wales only two households will now be able to gather together indoors.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, people are being asked to only meet on one of the five days between 23 and 27 December.

All the nations of the UK are also now urging people to keep to smaller groups and gather for less time if they can.

A joint statement from the four nations said: “A smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas, and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas.

“The safest way to spend this Christmas is with your own household or your existing support bubble in your own home – and we strongly recommend that this is what you do if at all possible.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also urging people to:

  • Reduce the number of people you are in contact with to the lowest possible during the five days before Christmas Day
  • Avoid travel from a high prevalence to a low prevalence area, if possible
  • Avoid overnight stays away from home if you can
  • Think about waiting to see elderly relatives until after they have been vaccinated
  • Avoid crowds in the Boxing Day sales
  • Don’t gather in large groups to celebrate the New Year

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Apart from Christmas Day, people in England are under a four-tier system while Scotland is under a five-tier system.

Wales is operating under nationwide rules, including pubs and restaurants closing at 6pm and not being able to serve alcohol.

From 28 December, Wales will go into a four-tier alert system for the whole country.

Northern Ireland also has nationwide rules, including a ban on households mixing in homes, no overnight stays and restaurant closing times of 11pm.

It will go into a six-week lockdown from 26 December.