Due to Covid, our big family get-togethers have been scrapped this year, with concerns around safety and travel restrictions as well as protecting the elderly and vulnerable.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Plymouth must stay in Tier 2 with the rest of Devon over Christmas.
What that means in effect is the city must stick to the current coronavirus guidelines banning people from socialising indoors outside of their household and support bubble.
Pubs and restaurants will remain open to the relief of the local hospitality industry – but diners mustn’t meet inside with their friends and extended family. Alcohol can only be served as part of a substantial meal. Covid-19 complaint gyms and hair salons will also stay open and NHS Test and Trace remains very much in operation.
Whilst Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Christmas message still stands – that people must ensure they have as brief a festive celebration as possible and avoid elderly people ‘wherever possible’. Three households are allowed to mix between December 23 and December 27 and form a Christmas bubble.
And Home Secretary Priti Patel said police should take action against “egregious breaches” of coronavirus rules this Christmas.
Asked about the role of officers over the festive period, she told Sky News: “Their role is to enforce against the egregious breaches, the raves, the house parties, anything basically that is in breach of the rules that would effectively lead to the spread of the virus.”
She said that action should be taken against “egregious breaches only” and was questioned over whether the different guidance and laws for Christmas is not clear enough.
“I don’t think that’s right,” she said.
“We’ve been living with coronavirus throughout this year. The British public are incredibly sensible in terms of exercising their own judgment.”
So, what are the rules? Here’s what you need to know.
Is Christmas cancelled?
The UK Government and devolved administrations have agreed a joint plan to allow a five-day “Christmas window” from December 23 to 27.
What does that mean?
During that period families will be able to form larger Christmas support bubbles of between up to three households.
Those within bubbles will be able to share Christmas dinner inside and even hug one another, as long as it takes place in a private home.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says the system is a “sensible and proportionate” way to enable people to spend time with their loved ones during the festive period.
So Christmas will be like normal then?
No. The relaxation does not mean all the rules have been scrapped. Tiered restrictions will still apply, the DHSC said.
For example, hospitality venues in Tier 3 areas will not be open for business during this period.
Stephen Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the system offered people “flexibility” to see their families but that it was not a case of “letting people loose”.
“I think (the Christmas window) has been mischaracterised as, almost, a tier zero, that we are scrapping restrictions in their entirety. That is not the case,” he told Sky News.
Do we… have to see our families?
The relaxed rules are not mandatory and ministers have stressed that people should take “personal” decisions as to whether or not they go to see family members, especially if they are vulnerable.
David Nabarro, a World Health Organisation special envoy working on Covid-19, has urged people to think of alternatives to family get-togethers this year.
Won’t that make me a Christmas Grinch?
The Government has said that people will not be “criminalised” for seeing family during the festive period, acknowledging it will be important for the mental health of many.
But emphasis has been placed on people doing “the minimum possible”, and if you’d rather not, then don’t.
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To those considering taking extra precautions, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said: “You’re not being Grinch at all. I think what you’re doing is following the science.”
Can I still do my Christmas shopping?
Even in areas with Tier 3 restrictions, non-essential retailers will stay open so you can still grab last-minute gifts.
However, people are being encouraged to be careful and “compliant” with Covid-secure rules when out at the shops and to shop locally or online if possible.
Are the rules likely to change?
Downing Street said there are no plans to change the “Christmas bubble” policy despite some concerns.
However, Mr Barclay reiterated that “all things were kept under review”.
What do experts think?
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.”