After a year dominated by the uncertainties surrounding coronavirus lockdown restrictions, Britons have finally been told how the Christmas period will be affected.
Boris Johnson has confirmed that, after a four-nation agreement was struck, families will be granted five days of looser Covid-19 restrictions to enjoy Christmas with no more than two other households.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have backed the plan put forward by the prime minister over the weekend — despite all confirming they remain concerned that infections will rise.
The exemptions will last from 23 December to 27 December, with travel restrictions also being relaxed to allow families, or groups of friends, the freedom to meet up. Households will only be permitted to meet in a house, a place of worship or in an outdoor space.
All the political leaders judged it is essential to allow people to meet with their loved ones due to fears they would otherwise break the rules — jeopardising the entire Covid strategy being rolled out in each country.
The announcement comes after Mr Johnson, on Monday 23 November, unveiled a new three-tier system for England to be implemented from the 2 December once the nationwide lockdown lifts. In a speech to the House of Commons, Mr Johnson addressed the fact that coronavirus restrictions will impact the Christmas period, stating that “Christmas cannot be normal” this year.
The new tiered system means that non-essential retail will be allowed to open when lockdown lifts on 2 December, enabling people to do their Christmas shopping and providing a boost to the economy.
News of a potential Christmas holiday comes after many other religious holidays, including Eid, Diwali, and Rosh Hashana, were impacted as families were not permitted to gather due to the pandemic.
Here’s everything we know about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect Christmas this year.
How will restrictions change over Christmas?
Between 23 and 27 December, families, or groups of friends, will be granted looser Covid-19 restrictions to enjoy Christmas with two other households.
The temporary measures will apply to all four UK nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, despite fears that infections could well rise.
Mixed households will only be permitted to gather in houses, places of worship or outdoors. There will be no Christmas Day lunches allowed in pubs or restaurants for those meeting to celebrate the holidays.
The government confirmed that people will also be able to hug their loved ones as social distancing rules are relaxed for the five days. Travel restrictions will become void too, so that groups can move freely to meet up with other households.
Will I be able to spend Christmas with my family?
A maximum of three families can meet in one house — meaning if you are a parent with three children who all live in separate households, you cannot all meet to celebrate Christmas.
Families, or groups, will have to nominate the two other households with which they plan to “bubble” with; they will be prevented from changing that decision to block any attempts to meet with other relatives over the five-day period.
Children of divorced parents will be able to move between Christmas “bubbles” so they can see both parents, as support bubbles count as a single household for the period.
Over-65s in care homes will not be allowed to join any mixed-household situation, with all four governments deeming the risk too great for the at-risk age group.
Will it be safe to see my family over Christmas?
All four leaders are urging people to consider how they spend their Christmas, with Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon going as far as warning people that just because you can see family members from outside your household, it “doesn’t mean you have to”.
“We will remind families that just because you might be able to mix a bit ... that doesn't mean you have to do that if you don't think it is necessary,” she said.
The current R number in the UK is between 1.0 and 1.1, which means that, on average, every person infected with coronavirus will infect at least 10 other people.
In light of this, many public health experts have warned that relaxing the rules, even temporarily, will give Covid-19 another opportunity to spread.
On Sunday, Professor Calum Semple, who sits on the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told Sky News that while it would be beneficial for people’s wellbeing to relax some regulations over Christmas, “there will be a price to pay”.
“It's just going to prolong restrictions and higher-level restrictions for some areas and perhaps all areas as a whole,” he said.
Meanwhile, health secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday that the government would be able to “mitigate” against a rise in Covid transmissions if the easing of rules is done in a “cautious” and “careful” manner.
Mr Johnson said that the virus “isn’t going to grant a Christmas truce and families will need to make a careful judgment about the risk of visiting elderly relatives”.
Will we be able to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends and family?
There will be no easing of restrictions for the New Year period, by which time areas of England will have returned to the three-tier system that will kick-in when the lockdown ends next week.
London’s annual fireworks display has already been cancelled and now that it has been confirmed that bars and pubs will be closed (depending on which tier you’re in), it looks set to be a much more quiet New Year’s Eve than usual.