Coronavirus Q&A: A guide to the Christmas bubble rules
People will be allowed to form an exclusive group made up of people from no more than three households between December 23 and 27.
Plans to allow people to form a temporary bubble over the festive season will be welcome news to many families across the country.
Here’s what we know from the Cabinet Office about the plans in England.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are yet to publish their full guidance, which could contain variations in approaches.
What is a Christmas bubble and when can I join one?
People will be allowed to form an exclusive Christmas bubble, or defined group, made up of people from no more than three households between December 23 and 27.
This rule applies across the whole of the UK.
Christmas bubbles can only meet in private homes and gardens, places of worship and public outdoor spaces.
Can I be in more than one Christmas bubble?
No. Christmas bubbles will be fixed for the period they are permitted.
You are also not allowed to change your Christmas bubble once it is formed.
Is there a limit to how many people can be in a Christmas bubble?
The Cabinet Office guidance only stipulates that the bubble should not include people from more than three households.
However, it highlights that the more people someone sees, the more likely they are to catch or spread Covid-19, and asks the public to be mindful of risks before agreeing to form a bubble.
The Scottish Government said people should keep the numbers within a bubble as low as possible and minimise the length of contact between different households in the bubble.
Will we have to be socially distant within Christmas bubbles?
Social distancing is not mandatory in bubbles, but people will be advised to exercise restraint and judgment if they plan to mix with vulnerable friends or family.
It means friends and family will have the chance to hug for the first time in months.
What happens if I’m self-isolating?
If you have Covid symptoms or are required to self-isolate then you must not join a Christmas bubble.
If someone in a Christmas bubble tests positive for coronavirus or develops symptoms between December 23 and 27, or up to 48 hours after the bubble last met, then all bubble members must self-isolate.
Can I be in a different Christmas bubble from people I normally live with?
Cabinet Office guidance says you can choose to form a different Christmas bubble from the people you live with normally.
To prevent virus transmission within your normal household and between bubbles, people should try to stay with another member of their Christmas bubble between December 23 and 27 where possible.
Extra precautions such as cleaning surfaces and door handles and letting in fresh air after someone has visited your household are also advised.
However, the Scottish Government has said that “different people in a household should not pick their own bubble”.
Can I still meet people outside of my Christmas bubble?
You will be able to meet people not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier you are staying in.
The tier system of restrictions applies to England, with rules in other parts of the UK varying.
Can I stay overnight with my Christmas bubble?
Yes. If someone is in your Christmas bubble, you can visit each other’s homes and stay overnight, including in private rented accommodation.
Can I travel through different areas and across borders to join a Christmas bubble?
Yes. You are allowed to travel between England’s tiers and the four nations of the UK to meet your Christmas bubble.
When am I allowed to travel to and from my Christmas bubble?
You should only travel to meet your bubble and return home between December 23 and 27.
For those heading to or from Northern Ireland, they may travel on December 22 and 28 December, but should only meet their Christmas bubble between December 23 and 27.
Travel outside these periods is only allowed in exceptional circumstances, for example if you are required to self-isolate.
People are advised to avoid unnecessary stops on their journey and not to share a car with people not in their household.
If crossing borders, travellers should read the local coronavirus guidance as different rules may apply.
Does my support bubble count as one household still?
According to the Cabinet Office, existing support bubbles will count as one household contributing to the three household Christmas bubble limit.
A support bubble in England is defined as a support network between a single adult household, or a one adult household with one or more people aged under 18 on June 12, and one other household of any size.
Rules on household bubbles are different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with full Christmas guidance still pending from those nations.
Can childcare bubbles continue?
In England, a childcare bubble is where one household links with one other household to provide informal childcare to children aged 13 or under.
Between December 23 and 27 you can continue to use a childcare bubble but “only if reasonably necessary” and “where there are no reasonable alternatives”, Cabinet Office guidance states.
If meeting socially during this period, the two households should form a Christmas bubble, with one further household permitted to join the grouping.
Again, guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may differ.
What happens to children whose parents are separated?
Children who are aged under 18 can be part of both their parents’ Christmas bubbles if the adults do not live together and separate groupings are formed.
Nobody else is allowed to be in two bubbles.
Can care home residents join Christmas bubbles?
In England, visits outside of care homes should only be considered for residents “of working age”.
A care home resident that is allowed to leave, subject to a home’s agreement and individual risk assessments, may form a bubble with one other household only and should not form a three-household Christmas bubble at any point.
If a care home resident does join a household for Christmas they should maintain social distance and take steps to minimise risks.
Can students returning from university join Christmas bubbles?
Students heading home for the holidays will be considered part of the household they return to.
Can I form a Christmas bubble if I am clinically extremely vulnerable?
Yes, but people are warned this involves greater risks.
If someone decides to join a bubble they should take extra precautions, while others within the group should be extra vigilant in the days before getting together.
Can my bubble have Christmas dinner together at the pub?
No. Under the rules Christmas bubbles cannot meet up at indoor settings such as pubs, hotels, retail businesses, theatres or restaurants.
In England, rules on who you can and cannot meet will still depend on which tier of restrictions a venue is in.
Should I follow the rules of the tier I travel to or the tier I’ve come from when forming my Christmas bubble?
In England, if travelling to join your bubble you should follow the tier rules of your destination.
In Scotland, you must stay with your bubble where they are hosting you and you should follow the travel advice for the level you are in.
For example, people being hosted in a level 3 area cannot go on an outing to a level 2 area.
Can I stay in a hotel during Christmas?
In England, you can stay in a hotel during the Christmas period, including in a tier 3 area, but only on your own or with members of your household.
How will the Christmas rules be enforced?
No specific details have been released over how authorities might enforce the newly announced rules during the festive period.
Will we face tougher restrictions in January to make up for this?
We do not yet know. It has been speculated that a further circuit-breaker might be needed in January or February if transmission rates rise during Christmas.
The Prime Minister has urged families to still be “jolly careful”, warning against “a big blowout Christmas” that could risk another lockdown in January.
Scientists have also issued warnings that the relaxation of rules could lead to a third wave.