Coronavirus Christmas bubble rules explained, from seeing family to travelling

Harriet Brewis and Barney Davis
·6-min read
<p>Plans for a five-day relaxation of the curbs were signed off this week </p> (Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images)

Plans for a five-day relaxation of the curbs were signed off this week

(Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images)

Families are set to reunite across the UK over Christmas under a five-day relaxation of coronavirus rules.

Boris Johnson is pressing ahead with plans to ease restrictions from next Wednesday, despite warnings the move could “cost many lives”.

But he told a Downing Street press conference: “We all want to send the same message: a smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas.”

Minister Robert Jenrick earlier said people will need to weigh up the risks when deciding whether to meet up with vulnerable loved-ones over the holiday period, suggesting they should consider postponing festivities.

However, while there will be no change to the law in England, the number of households permitted to meet in a festive bubble in Wales is reducing from from three to two.

So, under the current agreement, how long will the easing of the rules last? And how will they affect families? Here’s everything we know.

Will people be allowed to see their families at Christmas?

According to the current plans, yes. Three households in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be able to mix indoors as part of a temporary “Christmas bubble” between December 23 and 27.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said only two households will be able to mix over the period in Wales, in deviation from the rest of the UK, before a lockdown that prevents mixing across Wales comes into place on December 28.

But while in the rest of the UK law permits meeting over five days, leaders are urging people to meet for less time.

Nicola Sturgeon has urged people in Scotland to only meet on one of the five days.

While Boris Johnson has said “When we say three households can meet on five days, I want to stress, these are maximums, not targets to aim for."

Those travelling to and from Northern Ireland will be given an additional day either side to allow for longer journey times.

Children under 18 whose parents live apart can be a part of both parents’ bubbles if they chose to form different groupings.

There will be no size limit on any one bubble, so do not worry if you have a big family, provided you all live within a maximum of three households.

This means that children who have flown the nest may not all be able to return home to their parents if three or more of them live separately.

However, university students returning from halls at the end of term will automatically form part of their family household. Although the rules may vary in other administrations when detailed regulations are published.

In addition, people aged over 65 in care homes will not be able to join their families for Christmas.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty has advised it is not worth the risk of meeting the "most vulnerable" until they have been vaccinated.

<p>Three households will be able to mix indoors under the current plans</p>AFP

Three households will be able to mix indoors under the current plans


Where can people meet?

Members of a bubble can meet in the following three locations:

  • Each other’s homes;

  • At a place of worship;

  • In an outdoor public space or garden.

People will not be entitled to get together in pubs or restaurants.

Restrictions on hospitality will continue to apply, depending on an area’s specific tier.

Can I have different bubbles on different days?

No. The bubbles must remain fixed throughout the five-day period.

This means you will not be able to meet with two households on Christmas Day then spend Boxing Day with a different two.

Households cannot belong to multiple bubbles either. In other words, the same three groups must stick together.

That said, if you live in England and have already formed a support bubble with another household, this counts as one household.

This means you and your support bubble can join with two other households in a Christmas bubble.

Can I visit family in other parts of the UK?

Yes. Travel restrictions will be lifted to allow people to visit loved-ones anywhere in the UK.

But Boris Johnson has said people should avoid travelling from areas of high prevalence of the virus to regions with lower prevalence and "avoid staying away from home overnight if you can".

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has also warned the public to “look very carefully” at how they will get home for the festive period.

He warned that many transport networks will be running with limited capacity due to social distancing and planned engineering works, so urged people to consider staying put.

Can we hug?

Yes. Bubble members will not be required to follow social-distancing while they are together.

However, people are still advised to exercise caution when around vulnerable loved-ones.

People are also advised to reduce unnecessary contact with those they do not live with in the two weeks before they join a bubble.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said despite “fatigue” over regulations at Christmas, people should still be aware of coronavirus risks and the rules around it.

He said that relaxing restrictions during the festive period was not “mandatory” and suggested that people should wear face coverings whenever possible.

“You don’t have to have three households mixing, you don’t need to give your grandparents a hug and a kiss,” he said

What about New Year’s Eve? Will the rules be relaxed again then?

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the festive relaxation of the rules will not be extended to cover New Year's Eve.

She stressed: “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. Our priority is to suppress transmission of Covid-19 and reduce the risk to the vulnerable and those who have spent so long shielding – and that involves abiding by the rules.

"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.”

What happens after December 27 then?

Experts have repeatedly warned that any relaxation of restrictions will lead to a rise in infection rates, meaning a toughening up of restrictions may be necessary at the start of next year. Wales has already announced a national lockdown from December 28.

So it’s going to be a long, dark January in lockdown then?

Not necessarily.

Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the impact of the planned relaxation was “really uncertain”.

“There are two things happening over the period: one is that most workplaces and schools are closed, so that will result in reduced contact,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on December 16.

However, he added: “If we all mix together and have a normal Christmas (...) there’s clearly a risk, but it really very much depends on what people do.

“It’s very hard to predict and say ‘oh yes, this is going to be a disaster’ or ‘nothing is going to happen’ because it really does depend on what people decide do.”

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