Up to three households will be able to mix indoors during a five-day Christmas relaxation of lockdown rules, UK leaders have agreed.
Under new plans, members of up to three different households will be able to form an exclusive bubble between 23 and 27 December.
That will not include hospitality settings, though members of three different households will be able to go pubs and restaurants individually and reconvene in domestic settings.
Families will be able to ditch social distancing rules and hug one another, though they have been warned to be mindful of vulnerable family members.
The government has made clear that parents with three or more children will not be able to welcome all of them home for Christmas, though university students are exempt.
Travel restrictions may also be lifted over the five-day festive period and overnight stays may be allowed.
It comes after Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove this afternoon chaired a meeting with the first ministers of the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ahead of that meeting, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped a “common framework” would be agreed across the UK for the festive period.
However, she added that there might be some disagreement on “the precise definition” of a household across the devolved nations.
“I know everyone has a desire to see loved ones over the festive period,” Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament earlier today.
“However, there is also a very real and a very legitimate anxiety that doing so could put those we love at risk, set back our progress as a country, and result in unnecessary deaths and suffering.”
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford urged people to use exercise freedoms over Christmas “responsibly” and said it was “inevitable” that a loosening of rules would “drive a rise” in Covid-19 infections.
He told Sky News there would be “a period after Christmas where that will come home to roost,” adding that “more household mixing will lead to more Covid”.
It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson cautioned the public yesterday that “‘Tis the season to be jolly, but ’tis also the season to be jolly careful”, as he warned that a disregard for restrictions over the festive period would result in harsher measures down the line.
He has also said “Christmas cannot be normal” this year and called on the public to “make a careful judgement about the risk of visiting elderly relatives” over the festive period.
Public Health England last week warned that every day of relaxed rules over the Christmas holidays would mean five days of lockdown later on.
The comments stoked speculation that England will face a month-long national lockdown in January.
Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to NHS Test and Trace, told a Downing Street briefing: “Coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have, to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible.
“Then, I think, once we have got past the Christmas period if there has been a release and some socialisation we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again.”
Johnson yesterday set out plans for England to return to a three-tier system when it leaves its month-long lockdown next Wednesday.
However, the PM warned England will face “tougher” tiers in a bid to tackle the spread of the virus.
The UK today recorded its highest coronavirus-related death toll since May, after 608 further fatalities were recorded in the past 24 hours.