Government ministers have conceded that “Christmas cannot be normal” this year amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but what does this mean?
Just how different will the festive season be for the UK public?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday set out the government’s COVID Winter Plan – which includes the new “tougher” three tier system – in an address to MPs in the House of Commons, and is today expected to be providing further information on the proposed ‘Christmas break’.
This is predicted to include how many households will be able to bubble together at Christmas, and how long the break in restrictions will last.
At present, no official confirmations have been made, although government ministers are reportedly believed to be working on plans for three households and a five-day break – from Christmas Eve to 28th December – subject to agreement from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed these intentions yesterday.
He told Sky News yesterday that the government will “confirm it when we have that agreement across the four nations”, and added: “We’ve agreed in principle that there should be a set of rules that applies across the board that is balanced, that allows a little bit more freedom, but is still safe.”
Touching on the subject of Christmas in his address to MPs in the House of Commons yesterday, Mr Johnson said: “I can’t say that Christmas will be normal this year, but in a period of adversity, time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none.
“We all want some kind of Christmas, we need it [and] we certainly feel we deserve it.
“But what we don’t want is to throw caution to the winds and allow the virus to flare up again, forcing us all back into lockdown in January.
S”o to allow families to come together, while minimising the risk, we are working with the Devolved Administrations on a special, time-limited Christmas dispensation, embracing the whole of the United Kingdom, and reflecting the ties of kinship across our islands.
“But this virus is obviously not going to grant us a Christmas truce, it doesn’t know it’s Christmas and families will need to make a careful judgement about the risk of visiting elderly relatives.”
He also provided an insight into how rapid testing will aim to enable families to come together over the festive period. He said: “By the end of the year, this will allow every care home resident to have two visitors, who can be tested twice a week.
“Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly tests from today, and from next month, weekly tests will also be available to staff in prisons, food manufacturing, and those delivering and administering COVID vaccines.
“We are also using testing to help schools and universities stay open, and testing will enable students to know they can go home safely for Christmas and indeed back from home to university.”
Mr Johnson closed out his address yesterday stating: “2020 has been in many ways a tragic year when so many have lost loved ones and faced financial ruin. This will be still a hard Winter, Christmas cannot be normal, and there is a long road to Spring, but we have turned a corner,
“And the escape route is in sight.
“We must hold out against the virus until testing and vaccines come to our rescue and reduce the need for restrictions.
“Everyone can help speed up the arrival of that moment by continuing to follow the rules, getting tested and self-isolating when instructed, remembering hands, face and space, and pulling together for one final push to the Spring, when we have every reason to hope and believe that the achievements of our scientists will finally lift the shadow of the virus.”
The COVID Winter Plan can be accessed in full here.
For the latest information, guidance and support during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the UK, please do refer to official sources at gov.uk/coronavirus.