A relaxation of coronavirus restrictions “for a small number of days” over Christmas is planned to allow a limited level of mixing between households across the UK, the Westminster Government has said.
But questions remain over how many households will be able to mix and for how long.
Here we look at what we know so far.
– Are restrictions going to be lifted over Christmas?
The Cabinet Office on Sunday said that leaders across the UK had endorsed an objective of “some limited additional household bubbling” will be permitted over the Christmas period for a small number of days.
It comes as Boris Johnson is about to set out the basis of plans for the festive period on Monday, as well as detailing a new tougher three-tier system for England when its national lockdown ends on December 2.
But Mr Johnson will be unable to say how many households will be allowed to mix over Christmas and for how many days restrictions will be relaxed for until a later date, the PA news agency understands.
– So will people be allowed to see their families at Christmas?
The answer seems to be yes, but the details remain to be finalised.
But the public will be “advised to remain cautious” and told that “wherever possible people should avoid travelling and minimise social contact”, a statement from the Cabinet Office said.
– What has been agreed?
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove held discussions on Saturday with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford, and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill on shared arrangements for the festive period.
The ministers “endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”, the department said.
– Do we know how many households will be allowed to mix?
The simple answer is no, but there has been a lot of speculation on what the limit will be and for how long the relaxation will last.
The BBC has reported that one option being discussed was for three households to be allowed to meet up over a “number of days, maybe five days”.
The Daily Mail however has said up to four families could be allowed to form a coronavirus “bubble”, which can meet indoors from Christmas Eve through to December 28.
Full details of Christmas relaxation plans are not expected until after the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have consulted their own cabinets.
– When will a decision be made?
The Cabinet Office said that work was continuing to finalise the arrangements, including relating to travel.
The Cabinet Office said talks are continuing to finalise the agreement, including over travel arrangements, but that it is hoped the conclusion will come “this week”, while the Scottish Government said “no agreement has been reached”.
– Does this mean Christmas has been saved?
It would seem so.
But even if families are allowed to meet over the festive period, experts are warning that it could lead to more stringent restrictions once the turkey has finally been finished.
– Why will stricter restrictions be needed?
Statistician Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said that any relaxation of restrictions will lead to a rise in infection rates.
Sir David, statistician and chairman of the Winton Centre for risk and evidence communication at the University of Cambridge, also warned that it takes longer for rates to fall than to rise.
He told Times Radio: “If there’s got to be an exception it will be for a brief period over Christmas and that’s purely because it is Christmas.
“There will be a price to pay for it, obviously, you relax restrictions and infection rates go up, you constrain and infection rates will come down as they are going down at the moment.”
“This is not a symmetrical thing, you don’t have one day off and one day on.
“It increases a lot faster than it gets better again – it is not a symmetric process.”
– So is it going to be a long, dark January in lockdown then?
Not so fast.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, has said that while some restrictions might be needed after the festive period, these might not need to be “draconian”.
Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Prof Semple, who is a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), agreed with estimates that every day of relaxation would require five days of tighter restrictions.
But he added: “I think in the round it’s right, but it shouldn’t be seen that it is going to be draconian restrictions, it’s just going to prolong restrictions and higher-level restriction for some areas.”