On 24 November 2020, agreement was reached between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland on a time-limited change to social contact restrictions over the Christmas period.
Christmas is an important time of year for many people in the UK. Regardless of faith, the Christmas period is a time spent with family and friends while schools and offices are closed. Covid-19 continues, however, to pose a very real and ongoing threat. It will not be possible to take full advantage of the winter holiday season and to celebrate Christmas in the normal way. There will be some hard choices for families and friends, and there will be situations where it is not possible to gather in the way many usually would.
In this context, the UK Government and the devolved Administrations have reached agreement on a single set of UK-wide measures to help people come together with their loved ones in a way that is as safe as possible.
Between 23 and 27 December, up to three households will be able to join together to form an exclusive Christmas “bubble”.
Everyone can be in one bubble only, and cannot change bubble during this time period (the only exemption to this being children (aged under 18) of separated parents).
People (e.g. nannies, cleaners, tradespeople) can continue to work in someone’s home where necessary during this period. To reduce risk, they should observe social distancing wherever possible, and where it can be avoided should not go into homes that are hosting Christmas bubbles.
A Christmas bubble will be able to spend time together in private homes, attend places of worship, or meet in a public outdoor place.
Travel restrictions across the UK will be lifted to allow people to travel to form their bubble. Beyond this, people should follow local restrictions in the area they are staying.
Students who move home from university for the holidays will count as part of their family’s household, and in England an existing support bubble will count as one household.
Even where it is within the rules, meeting with friends and family over Christmas will be a matter of personal judgement for individuals, mindful of the risks to themselves and others. People should reduce unnecessary contact socially with people they do not live with as much as possible in the two weeks before they form their Christmas bubble. Everyone should think carefully about what they do during this period, balancing some increased social contact with the need to keep the risk of increased transmission of the virus as low as possible. This is particularly important when considering those who are vulnerable and elderly.
The clinically extremely vulnerable can form a Christmas bubble, but it is a personal choice and should be balanced against the increased risk of infection for those people. Given the additional risks, visits out of care homes should only be considered for care home residents of working age, where the home is in agreement, and when an individual risk assessment has been completed.
Parents should continue to send their children to school, and students should continue to attend college, in line with local guidance. The UK’s four chief medical officers continue to advise that the best place for children and young people is in education. There is no need for children to be taken out of school early.
It is essential that everyone follows the rules applicable to where they are in the UK. In England, that means continuing to follow the local tiers that will apply from 2 December. It will be particularly important for everyone to follow the social distancing guidelines in the new year and the start of January 2021. Historically, this period is when the NHS sees the greatest pressure on services such as accident and emergency, and the highest rates of bed occupancy, and this year the NHS is dealing with covid-19 as well.
While it will not be a normal Christmas, this UK-wide agreement should offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.
Guidance on the UK-wide Christmas arrangements and how they apply in England can be found on gov.uk; the devolved Administrations will similarly be updating their guidance—at gov.scot, gov.wales, and nidirect.gov.uk.