Households across the UK will be able to form a “Christmas bubble” with two other households during a five-day window over the festive period, it has been announced.
Between 23 to 27 December, people will be able to meet with those two other households in their bubble – but only in a private home, a place of worship or outdoor public spaces.
Travel restrictions across the whole of the UK will also be lifted during the five-day period, allowing people to travel between countries or between tiers in order to meet with those in their bubble.
People in Northern Ireland will be allowed an extra day either side of the five-day window to travel, in order to allow for flights.
The plan was finalised at a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee on Tuesday afternoon, which was attended by the first ministers of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who chaired the meeting, said: “We all know that Christmas this year won’t be as it has been in years past.
“But all the governments agreed we should balance the need to protect public health with also allowing people to be with their loved ones.”
Under the Christmas rules, once a three-household bubble is formed it cannot be changed or extended further at any point.
And – beyond private homes, places of worship and outdoor public spaces – people should continue to follow all other local restrictions in their area.
This means Christmas bubbles are unlikely to be able to meet in pubs, bars or restaurants.
Each country will clarify their own rules on support bubbles and extended households.
In England, support bubbles will continue to be counted as one household.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “very clear” that a three-household bubble was “fixed” for the five-day period.
“You can’t see two households one day, and another two households the next day,” she added.
Ms Sturgeon also stressed that “just because this can be done, it is not the case that people feel they should do it, if they don’t have to”.
“We’re asking people to keep well within these limits, because there is a risk to households coming together,” she added.
“And, therefore, if you can feel you can get through this Christmas without seeing other people – or if you can see people for one day and not across five days – then try to limit your interaction.”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “This has been a very long and difficult year for everyone. All our lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everyone has done so much to help control the spread of the virus and to save lives. But that has meant many sacrifices, including not seeing family and close friends.
“We are all looking forward to Christmas and a chance to spend some time with all those we hold dear.”