A top Northern Ireland doctor has said the temporary relaxations for the Christmas period are “sensible”, but has advised people to continue social distancing. Three households will be allowed to mix for up to five days in a plan to allow families to reunite for the festive season between 23 and 27 December.
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.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove confirmed the scheme after a meeting on Tuesday between ministers across the UK.
Reacting to the news, Dr Tom Black, NI Chair of the British Medical Association said the rules were "sensible". "It's clear, it's fair and it's rational, and that's what the public need. They need to understand what their duties are and while we know that this easing of the restrictions will cause an upturn in the infections," he said.
I think it's Christmas and we appreciate that people are going to be loosening up, so this gives them some boundaries within which they can work.
He said the public needs to continue with “social distancing, hand washing and wearing their masks”. "Don't hug your granny, please don't hug your granny, bang elbows with her because you know where you've been, and if you've been socialising with other young people then imagine them all meeting your granny, that's not what you want to do so keep a distance and don't infect your granny over Christmas.” Dr Black said the first two weeks in January are the busiest time of the year for doctors and this would add to the burden, but added that there was some light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines that are coming through.
For grandparents Jean and Roger Woods, who live in England however, the news means they could spend precious time with their daughter and grandchildren in Newtownabbey.
Roger said: “I get emotional and I want to cuddle them.”
They face a tough decision on whether or not to travel for the holidays. Their daughter Alison told UTV News: “We had hoped that straight away they'd book their ferry and come on over. They're still unsure with all the bubbles, and mixing of bubbles - it's still up in the air. She said their grandson Jake is desperate to see them.
"Nearly every day, he's asking if nanny and grandad will come over and surprise us. It would be his christmas wish." At Wednesday’s Department of Health briefing at Stormont, Health Minister Robin Swann urged people to limit their mixing. He said: "This is a time to unite to get the best outcome from these next two weeks.
"Our actions now will have a huge bearing on the kind of Christmas that we all can have. He added: "A festive free-for-all would generate a New Year crisis."