Christmas hope: UK nations back plan to allow household bubbling

22 November 2020, 21:07 | Updated: 22 November 2020, 21:18

Several families could be allowed to join a bubble and mix over Christmas
Several families could be allowed to join a bubble and mix over Christmas. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

The UK’s four nations have backed plans to allow household bubbling “for a small number of days” over Christmas.

Michael Gove held meetings with the leaders of the devolved administrations yesterday, where they all “endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”.

However, with coronavirus cases still widespread across the four nations, they warned "this will not be a normal festive period and the risks of transmission remain very real".

In a statement from the Cabinet Office, the leaders "emphasised that the public will be advised to remain cautious, and that wherever possible people should avoid travelling and minimise social contact".

Read more: WHO suggests swapping Xmas dinner for Covid-friendly 'picnic in the park'

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".

Several families could be allowed to join a bubble and to mix between December 22 and 28, reports say.

The Cabinet Office statement noted that in Northern Ireland "people will want to see family and friends across the island of Ireland", adding that "this is the subject of discussions with the Irish Government".

Read more: Christmas family gatherings will 'throw fuel on fire,' warns top scientist

Boris Johnson is expected to detail his plan for winter this week, which includes details on how families can see their loved ones at Christmas, to MPs on Monday.

The "Covid winter plan" is expected to place more areas into the higher tiers from December 2 to keep the virus under control, with some tiers being strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the national lockdown.

Read more: PM battles backbench rebellion over tougher lockdown tiers

Read more: Rishi Sunak to outline spending plan but warns of 'economic shock' of pandemic

Addressing the coronavirus briefing on Friday, Mr Hancock said it would be a "boost" for the UK if a "safe, careful and sensible" set of plans could be agreed between the devolved nations.

He said: "Over Christmas I know how important it is that we have a system in place, a set of rules that both keeps people safe but also allows people to see their loved ones."

However, public health experts have warned that a relaxation of restrictions over Christmas could lead to a harsher restrictions in the new year.

Earlier this week Public Health England said Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) guidance had suggested each day of greater freedom could require five days of tighter measures.

But deputy chief medical officer for England Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who also appeared at the briefing, said there is "no magic number" about how many days any easing of the rules might cost.

Read more: Christmas lockdown: Families could face a month of restrictions

Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh University Medical School, told LBC News "people should be cautious, regardless of what the government says".

She added: "People really need to think about how they actually want to take the precautions to make sure they are not spreading the virus either at their home or as guests at other people's homes."

"We know from already seeing this in Canada and what probably is going to happen in the United States with Thanksgiving, that the virus will transmit in these settings and we should be expecting to see a rise in cases a week or two later."