COVID-19 rules will be relaxed across the UK to allow families to spend time together over the Christmas period.
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Up to three households will be allowed to form a Christmas bubble between 23 and 27 December. Those travelling from or to Northern Ireland can travel on the 22nd and 28th of December, or any of the allocated days over Christmas.
Once a Christmas bubble has been formed, it cannot be changed or extended further. The guidance surrounding Christmas bubbles will allow households to stay overnight in each other's homes. However, these households will not be permitted to visit indoor venues such as non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants, or indoor entertainment venues.
This has led many in the hospitality sector to feel concerned and say the new rules made a "mockery" of the "economic devastation" venues will face if people cannot enjoy "Christmas bubbles" and eating out together over the festive season.
Visiting elderly relatives will be the decision of the public, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying people should use “personal judgement.”
Agreement on the UK-wide rules was reached on Tuesday following discussions between the UK government and devolved administrations.
After receiving advice from scientific advisors, the PM also said: "'Tis the season to be jolly but 'tis also the season to be jolly careful."
A member of the government’s scientific advisory committee and director of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology, Professor Andrew Hayward, said that this decision is like "throwing fuel on the Covid fire".
He raised concerns over a potential third wave of the virus as the Christmas agreement could "definitely lead to increase[d] transmission and likely lead to [a] third wave of infections with hospitals being overrun, and more unnecessary deaths."
Professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, Paul Hunter, echoed Hayward's views, and transmission rates will "almost inevitably" be increased, but added that this might be more manageable if the three-tier system was better managed than it was last month.
The director of health intelligence at NHS Grampian, Jillian Evans, told the BBC that the easing of rules poses a significant risk to many lives. She continued to say: "Those are facts, and I would rather be honest and tell you that those are the facts, and be truthful about it so people can understand the risks that they're taking."
The guidance over Christmas has advised against care home residents who are over a working age leaving the home to be with their families. The Alzheimer's Society's head of policy, Gavin Terry, said this might lead to “complete despair” for many of the residents.
"After eight harrowing months filled with devastation and tragic loss of life, the announcement that many care home residents will be facing Christmas alone is just heartbreaking." He has urged for further testing to allow more people to leave care homes.
Details of the rules over Christmas have been published here.