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The holiday is almost here and normally, we’d be thinking about office parties, family gatherings and Christmas meals out. But this year, it looks as though the Christmas lockdown rules will make things a little different.
The Christmas lockdown rules were first announced in November as the prime minister said, “We all want some kind of Christmas, we need it, we certainly feel we deserve it."
“I can’t say Christmas will be normal this year,” He added, but he promised that “by maintaining the pressure on the virus, we can also enable people to see more of their family and friends over Christmas.”
Now things have certainly changed. A January lockdown (opens in new tab) is in store for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland in the new year, while England has imposed a Tier 4 lockdown restrictions (opens in new tab) on many areas in the South and South East of the country. This has, naturally, affected plans for Christmas Day and the festive period as all four governments have announced a U-turn on the original Christmas lockdown rules.
It comes as a new variant of Covid-19 (opens in new tab) has emerged, which isn't proving to be anymore deadly or resistant to the coronavirus vaccine (opens in new tab) but is likely to be spreading up to 70% faster than the original.
So what’s in store for us when those in England come out of lockdown on December 2? And what can everyone in the UK expect their Christmas to look like this year? This is everything we know about the Christmas lockdown rules for 2020 so far…
What are the Christmas lockdown rules and will lockdown be lifted for Christmas?
Initially, it was promised that all four devolved nations would have a united approach to Christmas. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in November, "To allow families to come together while minimising the risk, we’re working with the devolved administrations on a special, time-limited dispensation embracing the whole of the United Kingdom."
However he did warn, "Families will need to make a careful judgement" about who they see over the festive period and think carefully about visiting older relatives.
Under the first set of rules, three households were allowed to gather together over December 23 to December 27 indoors. The "Christmas bubble" were allowed to stay overnight at each other's homes but they weren't permitted to visit any hospitality settings together, such as pubs or restaurants, theatres or any retail settings.
Naturally, this has now changed. These are the new Christmas lockdown rules for each part of the UK...
England Christmas lockdown rules
In areas of England not under Tier 4 lockdown restrictions, the Christmas rules now allow for up to three households to meet - but only on Christmas Day. This a change from the five days previously set out by the government in November.
Boris Johnson said at the time of his most recent statement, "As before, there will be no relaxation on 31 December, so people must not break the rules at New Year."
"Given the early evidence we have on this new variant of the virus, and the potential risk it poses, it is with a heavy heart that I must tell you we cannot continue with Christmas as planned."
He added, "I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is for grandparents to see their grandchildren, and for families to be together.
"So I know how disappointing this will be, but we have said throughout this pandemic that we must and we will be guided by the science.
"When the science changes, we must change our response. When the virus changes its method of attack, we must change our method of defence."
What are the Tier 4 lockdown rules for Christmas Day?
In Tier 4 areas of England (opens in new tab), households should not mix with anyone outside of their own household at all, under any circumstances.
Support bubbles (opens in new tab), however, are still in place for anyone living alone and at particular risk of loneliness or isolation.
It comes as a huge blow to the millions of people now living under massively tightened restrictions in south and south east England. All non-essential shops are now closed, leisure facilities such as gyms and swimming pools, hairdressers and personal care business are also closed, along with pubs and restaurants.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and other officials, including leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer, have urged people to follow the rules at all times to prevent the hospitals being overwhelmed and the virus spreading further.
Scotland Christmas lockdown rules
In a statement released over the weekend, the Scottish government have confirmed that the loosening of restrictions will now only apply to Christmas Day - rather than over the five day period initially outlined.
"Scotland will significantly tighten protections against Coronavirus (COVID-19) to prevent the spread of the new, highly contagious strain of the virus."
The household limit of 8 people from three households will still apply but "advice is to minimise the numbers. Where possible, people should celebrate the festive period at home in their household and meet with others outdoors."
Travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK is not legal, so anyone looking to cross the border for Christmas is now not permitted to do so, unlike before. However, travel within Scotland itself will be allowed on Christmas Day.
From Boxing Day, Scotland's level 4 restrictions (opens in new tab) will be enforced across most of the country and include the closure of non-essential retail services and hospitality venues. The areas of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles and the "other island communities where restrictions have been reduced in recent weeks" will not move up to level four, however.
Much like in England, from Boxing Day in Scotland, any travel between levels three and four will be prohibited except for essential reasons.
Wales Christmas lockdown rules
The Christmas lockdown rules in Wales have also changed. Now people will only be able to meet in two households on Christmas Day. First Minister Mark Drakeford has urged people to "stay at home" in general.
Initially, a national lockdown in Wales for January was due to come into play on December 28. Following the emergence of the new variant across the UK, this has now been brought forward.
On announcing the new measures, which mean people have to stay at home and only leave for essential reasons, Mark Drakeford said that hundreds of people had contracted the new, "more aggressive" version of coronavirus in Wales.
He added, "While we all want to avoid further disruption to businesses and plans for Christmas, our overriding duty is to protect lives here in Wales".
Now from December 20, non-essential retail must close, gyms, leisure centres, hairdressing and barber businesses, along with all hospitality venues will be forced to shut down for the foreseeable.
Although only two households will be able to meet on Christmas Day, anyone on their own in a level four area will be able to join another household as part of a support bubble to combat loneliness.
Northern Ireland Christmas lockdown rules
Northern Ireland is the only nation not to alter any of the Christmas rules for the festive season.
First Minister Arlene Foster said that "significant action" had already been taken "in advance of other regions".
This means that in Northern Ireland, up to three households can gather over December 23 through to December 27 in indoor private spaces. However, health ministers for Northern Ireland have reminded people to "think seriously about their plans for Christmas, and now consider limiting their coming together on Christmas Day."
What will the Covid lockdown tiers be for Christmas?
Now with Tier 4 in place, everywhere will stay in their current tier for Christmas as the next review comes on December 30. It's not expected that restrictions will be lifted for New Year's Eve celebrations, however.
This means that the three tier system rules still apply outside of Christmas Day, for everywhere apart from those in the highest level of restrictions in the south and south east of England. Those in Tier 1 will be allowed to mix indoors with up to six other people still and anyone still in Tier 2 will be able to mix outdoors at a pub or restaurant with those outside of their household over the festive season.
Will households be able to mix for Christmas in 'bubbles'?
The rules have changed and now, in England and the rest of the UK, households of varying people are only allowed to mix on Christmas Day - or not at all under Tier 4 restrictions. This means, however, that in most areas people can still form a Christmas bubble.
The bubble will only be in place for one day now though and it's been emphasised how important it is not to break these rules.
On Christmas Day across the UK (but not in Tier 4):
- You can form an exclusive ‘Christmas bubble’ composed of people from no more than three households in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Wales has a limit of two households.
- You can only be in one Christmas bubble.
- You cannot change your Christmas bubble.
- You can travel between tiers and UK nations for the purposes of meeting your Christmas bubble.
- You can only meet your Christmas bubble in private homes or in your garden, places of worship, or public outdoor spaces.
- You can continue to meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier where you are staying.
- You cannot meet someone in a private dwelling who is not part of your household or Christmas bubble.
This means that over the five-day festive period, groups of friends or other family members (unless they are in the Christmas bubble) are not allowed to meet in pubs, restaurants or other hospitality venues when they open again under the new tier lockdown system (opens in new tab). The "Christmas bubble" is also not allowed to meet in these spaces so Christmas dinner will have to take place indoors at home.
However, the new rules do allow for families to get together on Christmas Day.
Will hotels be open for Christmas?
This very much depends on the area in which you're staying. The new tier system allows hospitality (including hotels and overnight accommodation) to open in tiers one and two so at the very least, it's likely that they'll be open in regions who are put into the bottom two tiers as of December 2.
In all tiers over the five day festive period, people are allowed to travel between tiers and UK nations to meet their "Christmas bubble" but as they're not allowed to meet together anywhere other than inside homes, private spaces, places of worship or public outdoor spaces, it's likely that there won't be a blanket opening policy for hotels over Christmas.
New Year lockdown rules
Following changes to the Christmas lockdown rules for the UK, it's been emphasised that there will be no changes to the tier system or restrictions for New Year's Eve.
This means that anyone under Tier 4 restrictions must stay at home and will only be able to meet one other person outdoors, while anyone in Tier 3 can meet up to six people outside in a public space only, anyone in Tier 2 can meet six others outside in a private space. Tier 1 is the only level that allows people to mix indoors.
So for the time being, it looks as though the days of big New Year's Eve parties are off the table this year.
Grace Walsh is a Features Writer for Goodto.com, covering breaking news health stories during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as lifestyle and entertainment topics. She has worked in media since graduating from the University of Warwick in 2019 with a degree in Classical Civilisation and a year spent abroad in Italy. It was here that Grace caught the bug for journalism, after becoming involved in the university’s student newspaper and radio station.
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