Christmas arrangements: What is currently allowed?

There is still some uncertainty over whether families will be able to enjoy Christmas with their loved ones this year, as concerns continue over rising coronavirus cases.

Pressure is increasing on the Government to rethink the rules for the festive period, but how are things as they stand?

Here’s what you need to know.

– Is Christmas cancelled?

Not currently.

Shoppers on New Bond Street in central London
Shoppers on New Bond Street in central London

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.

Covid-19 restrictions in England
Covid-19 restrictions in England

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.

Christmas dinner
Christmas dinner

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.

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.

Shoppers in Birmingham city centre
Shoppers in Birmingham city centre

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 has insisted 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”.

"We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives. If our political leaders fail to take swift and decisive action, they can no longer claim to be protecting the NHS" @fgodlee@HSJEditor

— The BMJ (@bmj_latest) December 15, 2020

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.”