The Government has confirmed that people from up to three households are to be allowed to gather under one roof for seasonal celebrations under the plan. The easing of social-distancing rules will let many grandparents hug their grandchildren for the first time in months. People will also be able to travel anywhere in the UK to link up with loved ones during the “window” in regulations from December 23-27.
And they can to go to church and other places of worship and meet up outdoors.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is self-isolating after coming into contact with a Covid-infected person, urged people to exercise caution.
In a video message he said: “We can’t afford to throw caution to the wind. The virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas and we must all be careful.
“I know this doesn’t equate to a normal Christmas and it won’t work for everyone.
“It is up to each of us to think carefully about how we use this time-limited special dispensation. Wherever you are in the country I urge you to keep up the incredible effort that you and everyone else have been making to keep pushing the virus down.”
Apart from the relaxation of household mixing rules, other restrictions included under the new three-tier regional system, expected from December 2, will stay in place.
It means trips to pubs and restaurants will be out of bounds in many places, with no easing of restrictions covering the hospitality industry.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to exercise caution
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, blasted: “How can it be that pubs cannot properly open while households can mix in private settings?
“The Government data has consistently shown that houseto-house transmission is one of the highest, whereas hospitality has accounted for as little as two percent of Covid incidences when open.”
Also, people living in care homes are excluded from the rules on mixing at Christmas to try to continue to shield them.
The rules state: “A care home resident may form a bubble with one other household, and should not form a threehousehold Christmas bubble at any point.”
The deal was agreed by ministers in England and leaders of the devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland last night.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who finalised the agreement with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and others, said: “It will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove
“We know that the Christmas period this year will not be normal but families and friends will now have the option to meet up in a limited and cautious way should they wish.
“In coming to this agreement, we have listened to scientific and clinical advice on how best to minimise the risk.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “We know that for some, contact with friends and family is crucial during this time as isolation and loneliness can hit people especially hard over Christmas.
“The bubble approach aims to reduce this impact. But we must be clear, there cannot be any further relaxation of measures for Hogmanay.
“Even this short relaxation will give the virus a chance to spread. Just because you can mix with others indoors, that doesn’t mean you have to.”
Tomorrow, MPs are expected to vote on the new system of regional restrictions that is due to be introduced in a week’s time.
It is expected that most of England will be placed in the highest two tiers of three once the second lockdown ends. This means residents in these areas must follow the toughest rules outside of the Christmas period.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Also, during Christmas itself, slightly different rules will apply in different parts of the UK during the “let-off”.
In England support bubbles will count as one household for the purpose of festive gatherings. Shared households – such as friends living in a flat – would be able to split up to join another household for the five-day period.
In families where three children live away from home, they would not all be able to return for Christmas.
However, university students returning from halls at the end of term would automatically rejoin their family household and therefore not be included as a separate household.
In Northern Ireland, an extra day will be allowed at each end of the break in recognition of travel needs.
And people everywhere will be asked to watch out for elderly and other vulnerable relatives and consider alternative ways of making contact such as online if necessary.
A statement agreed by ministers and the devolved governments said: “This cannot be a normal Christmas. But we have been working closely together to find a way for family and friends to see each other, even if it is for a short time.”
Meanwhile, regional leaders are gearing up for another change in the rules as the current national lockdown in England draws to an end.
London mayor Sadiq Khan appealed for the capital to be spared from the toughest,Tier 3 restrictions, saying: “London’s unique ecosystem of bars, restaurants, clubs and cultural venues have been through an extremely tough year.
“If they had to close throughout the Christmas period and beyond in Tier 3, it would be a hammer blow that many might not recover from.”
Under the new regime, councils are to get new powers to shut down businesses that fail to make their premises Covidsecure. Firms could be hit with fines up to £4,000 for failing to obey the notices.
But leading Tory backbencher Sir Graham Brady said last night: “My preference is to move to a very different approach, which would be trusting people more.
“Asking people to use their own judgment and common sense to protect themselves and others.”