Ministers have been keen to stress that Christmas this year will not be normal. Boris Johnson went so far to say on Monday that it 'tis the season to be 'jolly careful'. However, as expected, there will be a softening of the current rules. Following a Cobra meeting this afternoon, the UK government and devolved administrations have agreed on a joint approach to socialising over the Christmas period.
The rules will be relaxed so that people can form a 'Christmas bubble' made up of three households for the period from December 23 to 27. During this time, travel across the UK will be permitted, including between tiers so that people can meet up with their household bubbles. Anyone travelling to and from Northern Ireland is to be permitted to travel an additional day either side given the extra logistics involved. Within the bubble, social distancing rules will not apply so hugging is allowed. Children of divorced parents can be a part of two Christmas bubbles – with each parent in one – and are able to move between them in this period. However, the softening of rules does not apply to over-65s in care homes.
This relaxation of the rules will be short-lived. There is no expectation of a relaxation of the rules over New Year's Eve, and as of 28 December everyone will be back under the stricter tier system – where they expect to be until the spring. The view in government is that this offers a compromise between public health risk and what is workable. There was a concern that without any change to the restrictions there would be mass rule breaking – after which some might become repeat offenders.
However, a short-term relaxation comes with risk. First, will we see what happened in Canada where there was a reported spike in cases after people came together for Thanksgiving? Secondly, after enjoying relative freedom, people may find it even harder to go back to severe restrictions for months to come.