Prime Minister Boris Johsnon has advised people planning to meet with loved ones at Christmas to do so with “extreme caution”, amid concerns the relaxation of Covid rules will lead to a rise in infection rates.
Mr Johnson made a statement at Downing Street on Wednesday (16 December) afternoon, after leaders of the UK’s four nations agreed to continue “in principle” with the easing of restrictions.
He said the laws were remaining the same but “a smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas”.
What did the Prime Minister say?
Mr Johnson said that it would not be right to criminalise people who made plans for the Christmas period, and as such, the plan to relax rules over five days, from 23 to 27 December will still go ahead.
However, stronger warnings have now been issued urging people to be cautious.
The Prime Minister said while up to three households are able to meet, this is a maximum number and not a target and advised that a smaller Christmas, over a short period where possible, would be the safest option.
As such, people are advised to minimise the number of people they meet at Christmas, and should reduce contact with others in the five days before rules are relaxed as far as possible.
Overnight stays in another household should be avoided if you can, and people should avoid travelling from areas with high Covid case rates to areas with low Covid case rates to help reduce the risk of spread.
In addition, the government has urged people with elderly relatives to consider delaying seeing them until after they have been vaccinated.
Mr Johnson said: “While it would not be right to criminalise people who made plans and simply want to spend time with their loved ones, we’re collectively, across the UK, governments at every level, asking you to think hard and in detail about the days ahead.
“We’re keeping the laws the same but we all want to send the same message: a smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas.
“When we say three households can meet on five days I want to stress these are maximums and not targets to aim for.
“It’s always going to be safest to minimise the number of people you meet. That means if you are visiting others over Christmas we’re asking you in the five days beforehand, as early as this Friday, to reduce the number of people you are in contact with to the lowest possible.
“If possible don’t travel from a high prevalence to a lower prevalence area and avoid staying away from home overnight if you can.”
Stricter guidance for Scotland and Wales
Under current guidance, up to three households will be allowed to meet indoors from 23 to 27 December in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
However, in Wales, only two households will now be allowed to come together to form a Christmas bubble over the five-day period.
First Minister Mark Drakeford told the Welsh Government briefing: “Here in Wales, the position is that only two households should come together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble during the five-day period.
“The fewer people we mix with in our homes, the less chance we have of catching or spreading the virus.
“None of us wants to be ill this Christmas. And we don’t want to give coronavirus to our close family or friends.”
Mr Drakeford also announced that on 28 December tighter restrictions for household mixing, staying-at-home, holiday accommodation and travel will apply across Wales.
All non-essential retail, including close contact services and all leisure and fitness centres, will close at the end of trading on Christmas Eve and all hospitality premises will close from 6pm on Christmas Day.
He added that the whole of Wales would move to “alert level four” and restrictions would be tightened across the country to control the spread of coronavirus.
As for Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged Scots to stay in their own homes at christmas, unless it is “essential” to meet with others indoors. In this case, this should only be for one day only and not overnight.
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government intends to issue strengthened guidance on Christmas Covid regulations later on Wednesday (16 December) and hopes this will have been agreed UK-wide.
She also added that the Scottish government recommends against travel from areas with a high prevalence of coronavirus to parts of the country where cases are lower.
Ms Sturgeon said: “If you haven’t made plans to form a bubble, please don’t.
“If you are still swithering, please decide against. And if you have made plans but think they are not really essential, please think about postponing until later in the year.
“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.”