At Christmas, coronavirus restrictions will be eased to allow people to mix with a slightly wider circle of family and friends.
People will be able to travel anywhere in the UK – no matter what tier they are in – to form “bubbles” of three households over a five-day period.
Health experts have urged people to think carefully about who they mix with, amid fears more mixing could cost lives.
Between 23 and 27 December, the three households in a “Christmas bubble” can mix indoors and stay overnight.
Northern Ireland has a window of 22 to 28 December, to allow time to travel between the nations.
Bubbles can meet each other:
The bubbles will be fixed, so you cannot mix with two households on Christmas Day and two different ones on Boxing Day. Households in your Christmas bubble can’t bubble with anyone else.
The Scottish government says Christmas bubbles
should have a maximum of eight people, not including under-12s.
Other parts of the UK haven’t limited the number of people, although English guidance says it should be “as small as possible”.
The rules about what counts as a “household” also depends on where you are:
People who are self-isolating should not join a Christmas bubble. If someone tests positive, or develops coronavirus symptoms up to 48 hours after the Christmas bubble last met, everyone has to self-isolate.
More than 60% of England will be under the toughest level of restrictions by Christmas. This has fuelled calls for the government to change the temporary relaxation of the rules.
“I would encourage the government to look at the rules over Christmas,” Sadiq Khan, mayor of London – which is moving to tier three – said.
Two leading medical journals – The Health Service Journal and British Medical Journal – said easing the rules is a “rash decision” that will “cost many lives”.
Several scientists and health advisers have also cautioned the public about the risks.
“Even though we’re permitted to do this, I think people have to think very carefully whether they can see loved ones outside or do it in a very, very modest way,” public health expert Prof Linda Bauld said.
Chris Hopson, the head of NHS Providers, agrees that it’s not just about sticking to the rules, but considering the risk we are causing others.
“Extra social contact over Christmas – particularly with those who are vulnerable to the virus – actually is very risky,” he says.
The plans for 23-27 December will be discussed by officials on Wednesday, but sources say the rules are “unlikely to change”.
You cannot mix with your Christmas bubble in hospitality settings, such as pubs and restaurants, or at entertainment venues.
You can meet people not in your bubble, but only outside the home and in line with the tier rules of the area where you are staying.
Suitable places include parks, beaches, open countryside and playgrounds.
Some traditional Christmas activities will also be allowed in England:
Under-18s whose parents live apart can join two Christmas bubbles, so they can see both parents without being counted as part of another household.
University students who travel home will be counted as part of their family household straight away.
But if a family has three or more grown-up children not at university, they cannot all form a Christmas bubble with their parents.
Individual households can split for Christmas. So, if three people are sharing a home, they can all go and form separate Christmas bubbles with their families and come back to form a single household again afterwards.
In England, care home residents should not take part in Christmas bubbles, while visits out of the home should only be considered for residents of “working age”.
However, more than a million coronavirus tests are being sent to care homes in England. This will allow family and friends to visit if they test negative, regardless of which tier they are in.
Residents should be able to receive up to two visitors twice a week, provided there hasn’t been an outbreak at the care home.