Downing Street has said plans for the replacement of England’s lockdown measures and proposals to ease restrictions over Christmas will be set out next week.
Whilst the second national lockdown is due to end on December 2, The Telegraph understands that households across the country could be banned from mixing even after lockdown ends in a bid to “save Christmas“, despite Boris Johnson’s vow not to extend restrictions.
An “end of lockdown package” is set to be announced in the week beginning the November 23, including a vaccination schedule and the potential extension of mass testing.
On October 28, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “We want people to be able to celebrate Christmas as normal as possible, but it is too early to say exactly what situation will be come Christmas, and to say what different parts of the country will or will not be able to do.”
How is Covid-19 going to affect Christmas this year?
Determined to save Christmas, the Prime Minister introduced a second national lockdown after Britain’s infections increased and Tier 3 restrictions across much of England failed to stem the spread.
Restrictions are set to last a month before the UK transitions back into the regional three-tiered system. But further measurements could be announced in Parliament next week, which could ban households from mixing before Christmas.
The Prime Minister said: “Christmas is going to be different this year, perhaps very different. but it’s my sincere hope and belief that by taking tough action now we can allow families across the country to be together.”
If the country returns to the tiered system, the rules in your area’s tier will once again apply – if you plan to enjoy a Christmas meal at a pub or restaurant, it is forbidden to have more than five friends at the table at any given time and more than two families mixing indoors and outdoors. Higher tiers are not allowed to mix with other households indoors at all, including in restaurants.
These rules will likely apply across England to all ages, and include not just private homes, but also parks, pubs, restaurants and sporting events.
However, the country may see a lockdown extension, followed by new rules to allow households to mix – all of which will be outlined in the coming weeks.
Read more on tiered restrictions:
Will there be a five day Christmas break?
The Telegraph understands Ministers across the UK are in talks about easing restrictions over the festive period to give families up to five days of “freedom”.
Under the measures being discussed, up to three households would be allowed to join together to form one “bubble” for a number of days.
The move would allow relatives to spend several days together for the festivities and mean families would not have to “choose between grandparents.”
With Christmas Eve falling on a Thursday and a Bank Holiday on Monday December 28, ministers are examining whether indoor gatherings could be permitted within this five-day period.
However, reports suggest the Prime Minister is facing caution from scientific advisors not to ‘throw fuel on the fire’ by allowing gatherings over the festive period. This comes as medical experts warn of a potential third wave in the new year.
The Government’s medical adviser on Covid, Dr Susan Hopkins, said on Wednesday, November 18, that advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) was that the price for easing measures would be heavy restrictions before and after Christmas.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma, also refused to comment on whether the measures would be eased, saying it was “too early to come to conclusions.”
Will we be in lockdown at Christmas?
Perhaps. One option the Government is considering is to ban mixing between households and return to tiered restrictions, which means further restrictions could be in place
Mr Gove told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on November 1 that over the month the Government would review the data, adding that he hoped the reinfection rate would be “significantly reduced” by December 2.
But asked if the national lockdown could be extended, he replied: “Yes.”
The chief executive of the NHS Providers, Chris Hopson, has also urged the Government to make Tier 3 lockdown measures the ‘new normal’ to avoid the ‘disaster’ of a third lockdown in January. The implementation of Tier 3 measures across the entire country would then effect plans across the festive period and on Christmas day.
In his interview with The Times, Mr Hopson shared that there is a “risk” we will “swap a few days of celebration for the misery of a third wave a few weeks later.”
Will there be Covid rules for over Christmas?
Christmas-specific rules are set to be announced by the Government, with changes subject to a vote in the House of Commons.
But if lockdown is lifted on December 2, families will have to comply with the rules under the three-tier system and all social gatherings between households could be banned.
One Government source said: “It doesn’t seem possible that there would be any part of the country that would be in what’s now called Tier 1. It’s likely that everyone would fall into Tier 2 as minimum, and we are looking at bolstering the tiers.”
Reports suggest ministers are evaluating a range of options which would allow for a relaxation of rules around Christmas. Under one potential rule, families of three or four households may be allowed to gather, but are banned from meeting anybody else. Alternatively, another potential rule may relax the Rule of Six we saw previously, which would enable larger groups to celebrate together.
The Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace has also spoken out about what we can expect over the festive period, saying, “I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas’ but he went on to add: ‘More than anything I want us to get through this Covid and try and get this country back to normal.”
Can I still meet other households and see my family at Christmas?
Based on the potentially new restrictions being introduced by the Government, overnight stays for families outside of the area they reside in can be banned.
But under Government plans to rescue Christmas, the ban on households mixing could end before Christmas arrives and you may still be able to meet other households and see your family at Christmas, as long as the ‘rule of six’, social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing guidelines are adhered to at all times in private gardens. However only a maximum of two households and support bubbles can mix.
Read more: Christmas gift guide – best ideas for 2020
Can I travel abroad over Christmas?
Christmas holidays are not necessarily off the cards. It just depends on where you want to go.
Travel corridors and travel restrictions are continuously reassessed based on rise in cases and R rates amongst other factors. Whilst the official guidance discourages all non-essential travel, you may still be allowed to travel internationally – as long as you are aware of the risks and restrictions.
The ‘green’ list of travel corridor countries, which Britons can visit without needing to self-isolate upon return, is shrinking – which means you may be out of pocket if your trip is cancelled due to new lockdown restrictions.
Travelling against official government advice is not illegal, but most tour operators will not offer trips to destinations which the Foreign Office (FCO) deems unsafe. In a pandemic, that’s just about everywhere – and it does make travel insurance complicated.
If you choose to visit a country to which the FCO advises against travel without invalidating your insurance – here’s what you need to know.
How to have a Covid-secure Christmas
To ensure family gatherings at Christmas are as safe as they can be, it will be important to adhere Government guidelines.
It would probably be best to also do your Christmas shopping early for both gifts and food, to avoid the Christmas Eve rush to the supermarket or late package deliveries.
Since families will most likely be spending more time at home this year, make the most of it by creating your own Christmas decorations or playing Elf on the Shelf. But most of all, try not to be miserable this Christmas – and to focus on your mental and physical wellbeing as much as the situation allows.
What will Christmas be like during coronavirus?
It’s hard to tell, but it certainly won’t be what we’re used to. With social distancing, the ‘rule of six’ and numerous questions marks in the weeks (and months) ahead, smaller family gatherings will most likely have to take centre stage, if new measures do not come to an end before then.
Christmas on Zoom for big families? We shouldn’t rule it out.
What we do know – you can expect a face mask and hand sanitiser under the tree.