PM: Christmas rules won't change but people should 'keep it small and local'

16 December 2020, 16:18 | Updated: 17 December 2020, 16:54

Boris Johnson sets out the guidance for seeing people over Christmas

By Maddie Goodfellow

Boris Johnson has said that Christmas Covid laws will not change and has instead urged people to keep any celebrations "small and local".

The Prime Minister said should "think hard" before meeting family and friends over the festive period, Boris Johnson said as he urged people to have a "merry little Christmas".

He told a press conference that a "smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas" and also suggested people should cut short their celebrations rather than enjoy the maximum permitted five days in a festive bubble.

The relaxation of social distancing rules across the UK will go ahead despite concerns about the possible impact on efforts to control the virus.

The original UK-wide plans would have seen three households allowed to form a festive bubble between December 23 and 27.

But Mr Johnson said those were the maximum limits rather than a target to aim for.

Boris Johnson recommends not seeing elderly relatives over Christmas

He suggested people should reduce their contacts in the five days ahead of the festive period if they were going to mix with friends and relatives.

The Prime Minister admitted the coronavirus situation had deteriorated since the festive bubble rules were set by the four nations of the UK.

Read more: Christmas Covid rules: What are the regulations for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Read more: Wales Christmas Covid rules: What is a Christmas bubble and what are level 4 restrictions?

Mr Johnson said: "While it would not be right, we think, to criminalise people who have made plans and simply want to spend time with their loved ones, we're collectively - across the UK governments at every level - asking you to think hard, and in detail about the days ahead."

He said the laws were remaining the same but "a smaller Christmas is going to be a safer Christmas and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas".

People should avoid travelling from areas of high prevalence to regions with lower prevalence and "avoid staying away from home overnight if you can".

Chris Whitty outlines how to reduce the risk of spreading Covid

Mr Johnson also suggested people should consider waiting until elderly relatives have been vaccinated before meeting them.

He said: "Have yourselves a merry little Christmas - and I'm afraid this year I do mean little.

"But with the vaccine, and all the other measures that we are taking, we do know that things will be better in this country by Easter."

Read more: Wear masks indoors at Christmas to protect family, WHO says

Read more: Robert Jenrick: Christmas mixing laws unlikely to change but use 'good judgement'

However, Mr Johnson also said that it would be "frankly inhuman" to "ban Christmas".

The Prime Minister told the Downing Street press conference: "I want to be clear, we don't want to ban Christmas, to cancel it, I think that would be frankly inhuman and against the instincts of many people in this country.

"But what we are saying is that that guidance, the three households and the five days, that should really be regarded as a maximum, those are the outer limits."

Ben Kentish on Covid Christmas plans

Commenting on Christmas, Professor Chris Whitty said the virus had forced authorities to make "really hard choices" between "two bad options".

This involved balancing the "natural wish" of people wanting to get together at Christmas, which was important for mental health, alongside the risk posed by people gathering in groups.

He added: "We're forced into this incredibly difficult choice where both the options are bad options and the aim is to try to find some middle way between the difficult options we have to have."

NHS Providers chief: "Everyone must take responsibility at Christmas"

The new guidance on Christmas came after talks involving the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford set out his decision to deviate from the previously agreed approach.

He said: "Here in Wales, the position is that only two households should come together to form an exclusive Christmas bubble during the five-day period.

"The fewer people we mix with in our homes, the less chance we have of catching or spreading the virus."

The price of the relaxed restrictions will be a tougher lockdown in Wales from December 28.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recommended that those people forming a Christmas bubble should only meet up on one day and not stay overnight "unless it is unavoidable".

She said: "Firstly and unequivocally, the safest way to spend Christmas this year for you and for those you love is to stay within your own household and your own home.

"My strong recommendation is this is what you should do if at all possible."

In Northern Ireland, First Minister Arlene Foster said the public must take "all and every precaution" at Christmas and proposals for further restrictions will be brought forward on Thursday.