It may be too early to put up the tree, but that doesn't mean Christmas isn't on the minds of many Britons. Whilst we're all hoping to celebrate Christmas traditions as normal this year, the 2020 festive season is bound to look very different in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Wednesday, "we want people to be able to celebrate Christmas as normal as possible, but it is too early to say exactly what situation will be come Christmas, and to say what different parts of the country will or will not be able to do."
The three-tier system the Government announced on October 12, which categorises local areas dependent on the rates of Covid infections, means Christmas this year will be unlike any other.
In areas with particularly high levels of infection pubs and bars could be forced to closed in order to stop the spread of the virus - and people will not be permitted to mix with other households except their own.
The rules follow Boris Johnson's previous announcement of lockdown rules following a rapid increase in coronavirus cases in the UK. In addition to the 'rule of six', which bans social gatherings of more than six people, Britons will face new curfews for hospitality venues, stricter face mask requirements and pleas to work from home if possible. But how long is it expected to last?
"Unless we palpably make progress, we should assume that the restrictions I have announced will stay in place for six months," Boris Johnson said in his September 22 update.
As a result of Covid-19, life events and traditions have cancelled, postponed or tweaked - from weddings to graduations. The 'rule of six' and social gathering makes family gatherings strenuous, and Christmas is no exemption.
The three-tier system rules explained
Also known as the traffic light system, the Government has categorised local areas dependent on the rates of Covid infections. Here's what each tier level means:
- Tier 1 - medium level: In order to "simplify and standardise" measures, this Covid alert level will be similar to the current restrictions already in place. This includes not meeting with more than six people from various households and a 10pm curfew. All businesses can continue to operate in a Covid-secure manner, and schools, universities and places of worship will remain open. Team sport can only be played outdoors and wedding and civil partnership ceremonies have a maximum of 15 guests.
- Tier 2 - high level: Households and different support bubbles must not interact in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place. Pubs and cafes will be expected to stick to the 10pm curfew and the rule of six will apply outdoors. Families may be permitted to socialise in a private garden, but the rule of six will apply for a maximum of two households. Businesses will not be supported financially in this tier, as they haven't been explicitly closed. People should aim to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible.
- Tier 3 - very high level: For the parts of the UK with the highest level of cases, tougher restrictions will apply. This level includes the closure of businesses, pubs, bars, leisure centres and entertainment. Restaurants can remain open. Different households and families are banned from mixing indoors and outdoors. Schools, retail and universities will remain open and only essential travel will be permitted. Eligible businesses will be supported financially by the Government and the same support will be extended to support enforcement if needed. This system will be reviewed every four weeks under the new sunset clause.
How is Covid-19 going to affect Christmas this year?
The Prime Minister's statement on September 22 makes it clear - Christmas 2020 will be like no other. If the guidance stays as is for half a year, which Boris Johnson has hinted at, the 'rule of six' will remain firmly in place across the country. Larger families will have to rethink their family festivities.
Best to put that seventh and eighth dinner setting away as your guest list is bound to be capped at six people. There is an exception for larger households which already have more than six family members.
Depending on what tier you find yourself in, the same applies for festive dinners and parties. If you plan to enjoy a Christmas meal at a pub or restaurant, it is forbidden to have more than five friends at the table at any given time and more than two families mixing indoors and outdoors. This is extended further depending on what tier you are in - higher tiers are not allowed to mix with other households indoors at all, including in restaurants.
These rules apply across England to all ages, and include not just private homes, but also parks, pubs, restaurants and sporting events.
Households and support bubbles of more than six people are, however, exempt from the new rules.
Read more: Christmas gift guide - best ideas for 2020
Will we be in lockdown at Christmas?
As it stands, the Government has not imposed a second national lockdown, where pubs, shops and businesses close completely. It has instead tightened measures and introduced a three-tiered system in order to simplify local lockdowns in coronavirus hotspots.
The Prime Minister said earlier this month it was “too early to say” whether it would be possible to have large family gatherings over the festive period, after imposing the 'rule of six'.
Johnson admitted he was “not comfortable” bringing in rules that could separate families for months to come, and said it “breaks his heart” to do so.
Ministers have also said it's impossible to rule out a possible circuit breaker in November in a bid to curb infections.
Read more: Best advent calendars for Christmas 2020
Will there be Covid rules for over Christmas?
Christmas-specific rules have not been announced by the Government. The current guidance says the public must follow the new rules at all times or risk being fined. Since this is projected to last for six months, Christmas would fall under the same umbrella.
Boris Johnson said on Tuesday 22 September that the Government will review the new changes "if the British public can do what they did before" in complying with the new regulations. But since then, families will have to comply with the new rules under the three-tier system.
The new rules in full confirmed by the Prime Minister are as follows:
- Office workers who can work from home should do so.
- Pubs, bars and restaurants in England will be ordered to close by 10pm each night, with the hospitality sector restricted solely to table service.
- Face coverings must be worn in taxis and private hire vehicles, and by retail staff while at work. Customers in indoor hospitality will also have to wear face coverings, except while they are seated at a table to eat or drink.
- The exemptions to the rule of six will be reduced, banning indoor team sport - such as indoor five-a-side football matches. The planned return of spectators to sports venues will now not go ahead from October 1.
- Wedding ceremonies and receptions will be capped at 15 people, although no changes will be made to rules around funerals.
Can I still meet other households and see my family at Christmas?
Based on the new restrictions introduced by the Government for each of the three tiers, overnight stays for families outside of the area they reside in can be banned depending on the tier. People will not be forbidden to enter an area for an overnight stay if they live outside.
You can still meet other households and see your family at Christmas, as long as the 'rule of six', social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing guidelines are adhered to at all times in private gardens. However only a maximum of two households and support bubbles can mix.
Can I travel abroad over Christmas?
Christmas holidays are not necessarily off the cards. It just depends on where you want to go.
Travel corridors and travel restrictions are continuously reassessed based on rise in cases and R rates amongst other factors. Whilst the official guidance discourages all non-essential travel, you are still allowed to travel internationally - as long as you are aware of the risks.
The 'green' list of travel corridor countries, which Britons can visit without needing to self-isolate upon return, is shrinking - which means you may be out of pocket if your trip is cancelled due to new lockdown restrictions. Here's a list of countries you can (feasibly) visit right now.
Travelling against official government advice is not illegal, but most tour operators will not offer trips to destinations which the FCO deems unsafe. In a pandemic, that's just about everywhere - and it does make travel insurance complicated.
If you choose to visit a country to which the Foreign Office (FCO) advises against travel without invalidating your insurance - here's what you need to know.
What will Christmas be like during coronavirus?
It's hard to tell, but it certainly won't be what we're used to. With social distancing, the 'rule of six' and numerous questions marks in the weeks (and months) ahead, smaller family gatherings will most likely have to take centre stage.
Christmas on Zoom for big families? We shouldn't rule it out.
What we do know - you can expect a face mask and hand sanitiser under the tree.