Christmas ain’t going to be the same this year, but at least many of us will now be able to see loved ones beyond our household. Having already announced the end of English lockdown on 2 December, the Government has now given details on a “special, time-limited dispensation” for socialising over the festive period, with rules that will apply across all four nations of the UK. The basic rules are straightforward, but there are nuances that will affect some families.
When Do The Christmas Rules Kick In?
We’re looking at a five-day period, from 23 to 27 December inclusively.
Who Can We Meet Up With?
You’re allowed to mix indoors with up to two other households (i.e. three in total). There is no limit on the total number of people, so long as they’re drawn from just those households.
Is That Two Other Households At The Same Time?
It can be, if you like. Or you can see the two other households separately.
Can We See Two Other Households One Day, And A Different Two The Next?
Nope. Once you’ve chosen your two other households, that’s it. You’ve formed a Christmas bubble, and you can’t go straying into other bubbles. This will have various implications for families. Grandparents with three or more sets of grandchildren, for example, won’t be able to see them all over the Christmas period.
So I Can’t See Anybody Else Outside The Christmas Bubble Over Those Five Days?
The rules apply to indoor gatherings. You can still see other people outdoors so long as you stick to the rule-of-six and any conditions of the Tier you’re in.
Can We Stay Overnight With Our Christmas Bubble?
Yes, it’s OK to stay overnight. You can see or stay with loved ones at their (or your) home. However, you won’t be able to visit “hospitality, theatre or retail settings” together.
How Do Support Bubbles Factor Into All This?
Support bubbles count as one household towards the tally (at least in England, the rules for other parts of the UK are subject to change). So, for example, if your family has formed a support bubble with a single grandparent, then you collectively count as one household and can meet up with two others.
Can I Travel To See Loved Ones?
Yes. The Tier rules, which start on 2 December, allow people to travel beyond their local area, though not into or out of Tier 3 regions (unless it’s for a necessary trip). Over the Christmas period, those in Tier 3 can travel beyond their local area, or accept guests from without, provided nobody concerned is showing Covid symptoms or should be isolating. Basically, you can go anywhere in the UK. See our guide to using public transport safely with children.
What About Kids Whose Parents Have Separated?
The rules contain a special exception for children (under 18) with separated parents. The kids can be part of the Christmas bubble of both parents.
I’ve Got Children At University. Can They Come Home?
Over-18s at university can can come back to the family home and immediately count as part of that household, even if they’ve been living with others. This does not extend to grown-up children who aren’t at university. So if you have three children over 18 who live apart from you and aren’t students, only two of them can come over at Christmas (and would count as the two other households in your Christmas bubble). Students in England are to be offered (voluntary) rapid-result tests at the end of term.
Can A Loved One From A Care Home Come To Stay With Us?
The rules are a lot tighter for residents of care homes, because of the greater risk to the vulnerable. The government advises that care home residents “of working age” (i.e. under 65) may leave and form a bubble with one other household (not three). Older residents should remain at the care home. It is expected that rapid testing will allow greater visitor access to care homes by Christmas.
Are There Any Regional Variations?
The five-day Christmas rules were agreed between the four nations and apply everywhere. However, there are some minor differences. People travelling to or from Northern Ireland get a little extra time, and can do so on 22 and 28 December as well as the five days in between. Other differences may be announced shortly. After the five-day period, the four nations will revert to their different Tier systems.
Why Is This Happening? Isn’t The Pandemic Still Raging?
It’s hoped that the November lockdown will quash the number of cases to a level that will allow greater mixing (temporarily). Scientists warn that this will inevitably lead to greater transmission, and everything that implies. However, behavioral science also has to be considered. A strict ban on mixing at a time when so many expect to do so would come with its own problems. The five-day relaxation is a compromise between the two.
The Government is at pains to stress that this brief relaxation of the rules is not a free ticket to abandon all caution. We must all use our personal judgment when mixing, particularly around the elderly and vulnerable. As the PM noted, the virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas and won’t call a truce. ”'Tis the season to be jolly,” he said, “but 'tis also the season to be jolly careful."
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