Covid: Three households allowed to mix over five days for Christmas

Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt

Three households will be allowed to mix for up to five days in a plan to allow families to reunite at Christmas.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove confirmed the scheme after a meeting on Tuesday between ministers across the UK.

ITV News reported the plans on Sunday, which comes as the government reiterated England will exit lockdown on December 2.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged the risks involved in a Christmas relaxation, saying it is the “season to be jolly careful”, but is determined to give families the chance to meet up at the end of a grim year.

'We have to be careful... we're taking a cautious approach'

Christmas bubbles will have to be exclusive over the five day period, meaning people cannot move from one bubble to another over the period. Bubbles will only be able to gather in private homes, go to outdoor public spaces and attend places of worship together – but they will not be able to meet together in hospitality settings. Children whose parents are separated will be able to move between two separate bubbles, however. Social distancing will not be necessary in the Christmas bubbles, though people will be advised to exercise restraint and judgment if they plan to mix with vulnerable friends or family. There will be no change to how hospitality operates in the various tiers over the period when social restrictions are eased.

ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan breaks down the problems with the plan

People aged over 65 in care homes will not be able to join their families for Christmas under the new guidance. Shared households in England – such as friends sharing a flat – would be able to split up to join another household for the five-day period. But in families where three children live away from home, they would not all be able to return for Christmas. However, university students returning from halls at the end of term would automatically rejoin their family household and therefore not be included as a separate household.

The prime minister's Christmas message - a reminder to be 'jolly careful'

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she has agreed to a “cautious and limited” relaxation of coronavirus rules for Christmas, but stressed there would be no further relaxation of measures at New Year.

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. 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.”

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford admitted he has "hesitation", he said it was "better to have a common set of arrangements".

"I think the dilemma facing government is, if we ask people not to get together then you can’t be confident that people will be willing to stick to that," he said.

"It is better to have a common set of rules, simple to understand that people can operate in and that will mitigate the risks that are inevitably associated with greater household mixing."

He added: “We have to recognise that Christmas is a very important time for people, and that you have to have a set of rules that people will be prepared to operate within.”

First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill support the arrangement. Credit: PA

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the agreement. “We of course recognise how important Christmas time is for so many people in Northern Ireland and the fact we have been able to secure agreement across Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland – the four constituent parts of the United Kingdom – is very strong because of course we know that people will want to come together from the four parts of the UK to be together at Christmas,” she said.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill expressed hope that alignment could also be achieved with the Irish Republic.

“I think it’s important, and I raised this in all conversations, that we need to look across the two islands for a common approach to the Christmas message,” she said.

“It’s important that people aren’t any more confused than they are.

“So we look forward to also later in the week we believe that Dublin will also make an announcement around the Christmas message.

“But I think it’s important that we’re very honest with the public to say that in a pandemic there’s very little that you can be concrete about, there’s very little certainty in dealing with the pandemic, but it’s our intention to allow families to have some space over the Christmas period.”

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