The equation for Christmas is simple: three households, five days.
With barely a month to go until Santa squeezes himself down the chimney (mask firmly on, we assume), our attention has been focused as much on the coronavirus restrictions for Christmas as it has been on present-buying. Whispers in the media for the past couple of weeks have bandied around varying numbers of households meeting for various days across the Christmas break, but the government has finally provided some clarity today. According to government sources, quoted in the BBC, UK residents will be allowed to join together as three households for five days, stretching from December 23-27.
The news will be a welcome relief to those of us who might have feared the possibility of spending the holidays alone under the strict lockdown rules England has seen during November. The government’s plans, which had been expected to be revealed yesterday, were delayed in order to give the devolved governments of Wales and Scotland time to sign off on them – as Boris Johnson’s government favoured a co-ordinated approach across the four nations. Though the size and exact definition of a “household” might vary between nations, we’re being given a certain amount of freedom to exercise our best discretion when joining the three households together.
So, between the dates of December 23-27, certain restrictions we’ve been living under for the past few months will be lifted, so as to give families a proper chance to celebrate Christmas together. The “rule of six” will be temporarily relaxed, allowing three households to gather in certain spaces – including in each other’s houses, at places of worship, and in outdoor public spaces. However, anyone gathering in multiple households must comply with the hospitality rules in their area, which means those in Tier 3 areas over Christmas won’t be able to head to pubs and restaurants for a sit-down meal.
Lifting further restrictions – including essential travel orders designed to keep us as close to home as possible, and the current ban on overnight stays with members from outside one’s household – are thought to be under consideration as well, but more information on this is expected in due course. Despite this relaxing of the rules, UK leaders have warned us not to abuse the system, with the Prime Minister noting that coronavirus “is not going to grant a Christmas truce”, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asking Scots to “err on the side of caution”.
Once December 27 has passed and the Christmas grace period is over, England will revert to the tier system that’s been implemented for December, with Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland also returning to local restrictions. So, plenty to consider when sorting your Christmas plans – and other precautions, including mask-wearing and hand-washing must obviously still be followed – but at least it’s looking a little more like a normal Christmas this year!