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'Christmas bubbles' only allowed on Christmas Day, Boris Johnson says
19 December 2020, 16:20 | Updated: 19 December 2020, 22:14
Three-household 'Christmas bubbles' will only be allowed on Christmas Day for everyone in England living outside of Tier 4, Boris Johnson has announced.
The festive bubble policy across Tiers 1, 2 and 3 in England will be dramatically scaled back to just 25 December, the prime minister said at the Downing Street press conference.
Mr Johnson advised everyone to "stay local" over the Christmas period, overturning the five-day bubble window originally planned for between 23 and 27 December.
He said that it was "with a heavy heart" that he has changed the plans but that it was necessary to prevent the spread of the new, highly-transmissive coronavirus variant that is spreading faster than the original strain.
"I know how much emotion people invest in this time of year, and how important it is, for instance, for grandparents to see their grandchildren, for families to be together," the prime minister said.
"So I know how disappointing this will be. But we have said throughout this pandemic that we must, and we will, be guided by the science.
"When the science changes, we must change our response."
Commenting on changes to Christmas rules, Mr Johnson said that, as prime minster, he believed there was "no alternative open to me".
He said: "Without action, the evidence suggests that infections would soar, hospitals would become overwhelmed and many thousands more would lose their lives."
Mr Johnson added: "Yes Christmas this year will be different, very different.
"We're sacrificing the chance to see our loved ones this Christmas so that we have a better chance of protecting their loves, so that we can see them at future Christmases.
"And as sure as night follows day we will beat this virus, we'll defeat it and reclaim our lives."
The prime minister added that he "bitterly regretted" the changes to the Christmas arrangements.
"We, of course, bitterly regret the changes that are necessary but, alas, when the facts change you have to change your approach.
"The briefing that I had yesterday about this mutation of the virus, particularly about the speed of transmission, was not possible to ignore."
Mr Johnson also announced that from Sunday, areas in London, the South East and eastern England currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 - effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November.
It means that those affected must stay home for Christmas this year, although support bubbles can remain in place.
Non-essential shops, gyms, cinemas, hairdressers and bowling alleys will be forced to close for two weeks - while people will be restricted to meeting one other person from another household in an outdoor public space.
The total number of people living in areas moving into Tier 4 is 17.7 million, which is 31 per cent of England's population.
Saturday's decision comes after scientists on the government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NervTag) concluded that the mutant strain identified by Public Health England - known as VUI2020/01 - was spreading more quickly.