Families and friends will be able to reunite over the Christmas period, after ministers signed off on a UK-wide deal to relax Covid restrictions.
Under the revised festive rules, up to three households will be able to form a “Christmas bubble” from December 23 to December 27.
During this five-day period, households will be able to travel across the UK, to and from their Christmas bubbles, without restriction.
Those travelling to and from Northern Ireland will be permitted to travel an additional day either side.
Bubbled households will not be permitted to meet up in pubs or restaurants, however, with exemptions only applying to private homes, places of worship and outdoor public places.
FM @NicolaSturgeon outlines easing of restrictions during Christmas period, but urges people to exercise caution.
🎄 Three households can meet during the five days from 23-27 Dec, and the travel ban will be lifted.pic.twitter.com/CNdJqR10G3
— The Nine (@BBCScotNine) November 24, 2020
Number 10 has said there are no plans to extend the relaxation of restrictions to cover New Year.
‘Balanced and workable set of rules’
The approach was signed off by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and the first ministers of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales on Tuesday afternoon.
Speaking following the meeting, Mr Gove said: “The UK-wide agreement reached today will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.
“We know that the Christmas period this year will not be normal, but following constructive discussions between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, families and friends will now have the option to meet up in a limited and cautious way across the UK should they wish.
“In coming to this agreement, we have listened to scientific and clinical advice on how best to minimise the risk and reach a balanced and workable set of rules that we hope will allow people to spend time together at this important time of year.”
‘Christmas has a special place in all of our hearts’
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack added: “I’m very pleased we have secured agreement right across the UK to ensure families can meet, albeit in a far more limited way than usual, this Christmas.
“Christmas has a special place in all of our hearts. It is a time when many of us look forward to spending time with friends and relatives, and many families come together from all parts of the UK.
“This Christmas will not be what we are used to. Because of the virus, it simply cannot be. But a limited easing of restrictions will allow us to see some of our loved ones at this important time.
“More household mixing does mean more chance for the virus to spread, however, and I urge people to be as careful and responsible as possible over the Christmas period.”
The idea of a temporary relaxation over Christmas has brought warnings from public health experts, however, with government scientists saying their modelling showed the likely need for five days of tougher restrictions to make up for each day of a looser regime during the festive period.
We're so close to an era with mass testing, therapeutics and several vaccines -> why risk getting infected & infecting others over the holidays? Delaying by a few months is perfectly rational given solutions within sight in the Spring. We've been in this for 10 months already.
— Prof. Devi Sridhar (@devisridhar) November 23, 2020
Giving evidence to a Commons committee on Tuesday, Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University, said this would inevitably bring perils.
“People emotionally want to hear reassuring messages,” she told a joint meeting of the health and science committees.
“They wanted to hear it over the summer, that there would be no second wave, and they want to hear it now that Christmas will be normal.
“I guess I have to speak bluntly: the virus doesn’t care if it’s Christmas. We still have pretty high prevalence across the country. It is risky for people to mix indoors with alcohol with elderly relatives at this point in time.”
‘Just because you can… doesn’t mean you have to’
Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged the risk and asked everyone to consider very carefully whether the opportunity to mix for a few days was necessary.
She 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 the Christmas period. 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 over this time, that doesn’t mean you have to.
“If you choose to stick with the rules as they are, then you will be continuing the hard work to beat this virus and prevent its spread.”