Under the agreement up to three households can meet in a “Christmas bubble” at home, outdoors, or in places of worship.
They cannot, however, meet at indoor hospitality or entertainment venues and once formed, they cannot change who makes up the bubble at any time over the five days.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said in a statement that the ease off on rules for Christmas “will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.”
“Families and friends will now have the option to meet up in a limited and cautious way across the UK should they wish,” he added.
Gove said the UK’s four nations had reached agreement on a workable set of rules after listening to expert advice but scientists provided mixed reactions.
Dr. Stephen Reicher, a professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews, said in a statement to media on Tuesday that more mixing means more infection and people still needed to choose how to proceed, “People now have a choice as to whether to join up with others at Christmas, and we all need to think very carefully what is the best choice for ourselves, our families, and our community.”
Relative Benefits Have to be Weighed
Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at The University of East Anglia, meanwhile said in a statement to media on Tuesday that while relaxing the rules over the festive period would likely lead to increased transmission, the relative benefits had to be weighed, “The issue is whether that increased risk is tolerable in relation to the benefits.”
“The benefits on people’s mental health of being [able] to meet up with family over this time should not be underestimated.”
Limits on travel will also be temporarily scrapped over the five-day period, with an additional day on either side for those going to and from Northern Ireland.
Toughened Tiering System
A national lockdown in England is due to end next week after which different parts of the country will face varying restrictions as part of a toughened tiering system announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.
A decision is expected later this week on which areas will fall into the different categories.
The government said that devolved administrations will soon set out their own rules on support bubbles and extended households but that in England bubbles will continue to be counted as one household.
Despite the relaxation of the rules for Christmas Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon continued to advise caution.
“The virus won’t take time off, so please be cautious. If you can, stay at home with your own household,” she said.
On Tuesday new recorded cases were the lowest for six weeks at 11,299, down from 15,450 on Monday.
Reuters contributed to this report.