Can I still celebrate Christmas with my family?
Confusion has been cast over millions of people’s Christmas plans weeks after the whole of the UK was told coronavirus restrictions would be relaxed to allow limited mixing over the festive period.
The scheduled relaxation was thrown into jeopardy by rising infection rates and warnings that the freedoms would cause a spiralling death toll and the NHS to be overwhelmed.
The laws to permit people to mix to an extent over Christmas seemed on Wednesday to be staying the same, but rifts in the advice across the four nations were appearing.
– So what’s the law?
The regulations allow for a five-day “Christmas window” from December 23-27 when people can form exclusive bubbles of up to three households across the UK.
Boris Johnson told the Commons that there was “unanimous agreement” across the four nations “that we should proceed in principle with the existing regulations”.
– What’s the advice for England?
The Prime Minister said that “we don’t want to criminalise people’s long-made plans” but issued a warning for people to be “extremely cautious” over their actions.
He said that individuals should “exercise a high degree of personal responsibility”, particularly when considering meeting elderly people.
– Is it the same in Wales?
First Minister Mark Drakeford did not appear to be changing the law for Christmas in Wales but he was changing his advice for the Welsh public.
He said the new position is that “only two households should come together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble” over the five-day period.
“The fewer people we mix with in our homes, the less chance we have of catching or spreading the virus,” he said.
“None of us wants to be ill this Christmas. And we don’t want to give coronavirus to our close family or friends.”
Wales will then go into full lockdown from December 28 to last an initial three weeks.
– And Scotland?
Nicola Sturgeon said that her “strong recommendation” is that people do not mix households over the period in what is “unequivocally the safest way to spend Christmas”.
The Scottish First Minister said that meetings should take place outdoors if possible but if it was “essential” to meet inside then she advised people to meet for only one day and to not stay overnight.
Ms Sturgeon urged people against travelling between areas of high and low infection rates and asked people to consider “postponing” Christmas.
“The reality is that this Christmas simply can’t be normal. But we have every reason to hope that next year’s will be much more normal,” she added.
– How about Northern Ireland?
First Minister Arlene Foster said people needed to take “all and every precaution” when they come together at Christmas but could not rule out further restrictions in the days afterwards.
Health Minister Robin Swann is due to bring proposals for further Covid-19 restrictions to the Stormont executive on Thursday but Mrs Foster said she did not expect a recommendation for new measures to be introduced before the festive break.
Mrs Foster said she noted the more stringent advice on household mixing from her counterpart in Wales but added: “I am not going to prejudge what the minister is going to bring to us but undoubtedly we will have something to say tomorrow and over the next few days.”
– Legally speaking, will it be a normal Christmas?
Not at all. The tiered restrictions largely still do apply.
For example, pubs and restaurants in Tier 3 areas will not be open for business as usual over Christmas.
– What do the experts make of it all?
Two top medical journals have called for the Government to call off its “rash” decision.
In a rare joint editorial, the British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal said the Government “is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives”.
They added that the Government had been too slow to introduce restrictions in the spring and again in the autumn, and restrictions were needed over Christmas ahead of a “likely third wave”.