Making a Christmas bubble with friends and family

The festive period is an important time for many people of all faiths and none who come together over the holidays. The UK Government and Devolved Administrations recognise that some people will want to be with their friends and family over Christmas, particularly after an incredibly difficult year. For this reason, the government is changing some social contact restrictions for a short period of time. All other restrictions, including around hospitality and entertainment, will not change and you should follow the rules in your tier.

It is vital that we each take personal responsibility this Christmas to limit the spread of the virus and protect our loved ones, particularly if they are vulnerable.

This means thinking very carefully about the risks of meeting up with others and only doing so if you feel you absolutely need to. For many, this will mean that it isn’t possible to celebrate Christmas in the way you normally would.

The safest way to celebrate Christmas this year is with your household or existing support bubble in your home. The more people you see, the more likely it is that you will catch or spread coronavirus (COVID-19). One in three people with coronavirus do not show symptoms – this means you can spread coronavirus to others even if you and the people you meet have no symptoms. You and the other people in your Christmas bubble need to consider these risks carefully before agreeing to form a bubble and discuss alternatives, such as the use of technology, to avoid bringing households together or travelling between different parts of the country.

If you do decide you need to form a Christmas bubble, you can do so between 23 and 27 December with people from no more than three households.

If you choose to form a bubble:

  • you should stop unnecessary social contact outside your immediate household as soon as possible and for at least five days before you meet other households in your bubble
  • you should keep your bubble as small as possible
  • you can only be in one Christmas bubble
  • you cannot change your Christmas bubble
  • if necessary, you can travel between tiers and UK nations for the purposes of meeting your Christmas bubble
  • you can only meet your Christmas bubble in private homes or in your garden, places of worship, or public outdoor spaces
  • you can only meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier you are meeting in
  • do not meet socially with friends and family that you do not live with in your home or garden unless they are part of your Christmas bubble

Scientific advice is clear that the longer you meet others for, the higher the risk of you catching and spreading the virus. You should minimise the time you spend with your Christmas bubble and should not stay overnight unless absolutely unavoidable. You cannot meet your Christmas bubble before the 23 December or after the 27 December. The five day period is a window of opportunity and should be seen as a legal maximum, not a target. A smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas, and a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas.

It is particularly important to think about the greater risks to more vulnerable people whilst recognising how hard it can be to maintain good physical and mental health without essential contact with family and friends. If you are over 70 or clinically extremely vulnerable, think carefully about the risks. The safest approach may be not to form a Christmas bubble. If you do form a Christmas bubble, then be especially careful to observe the guidance – meet outdoors where possible, wash your hands regularly, keep a distance from those you don’t live with, and, if you meet indoors, ensure good ventilation by letting in fresh air. If you are in an existing household or support bubble with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, the safest approach would be not to join a wider Christmas bubble to help reduce the risks to their health.

When seeing your Christmas bubble, you should keep taking steps to reduce the spread of the virus, and this will help ensure that the festive period is as safe as possible. This includes ensuring indoor spaces get as much fresh air as possible, making space between members of different households wherever you can, washing your hands regularly and for 20 seconds, and following rules on self-isolation if you develop symptoms or test positive for coronavirus. On no account should you visit another households if you, or anyone in your household, is feeling unwell or self-isolating. You should get a free NHS test if you have symptoms, have been asked to by your local council or your hospital, or are taking part in a government pilot project.

1. Forming a Christmas bubble

Christmas bubbles, support bubbles and childcare bubbles are all different things and have their own specific rules.

The rules on forming and using a Christmas bubble will be the law. You must follow them to minimise the spread of infection.

If you choose to form a Christmas bubble there are three main rules:

  • you can only be in one Christmas bubble
  • you cannot change your Christmas bubble
  • your Christmas bubble should not include people from more than three households

It is important that you keep your Christmas bubble as small as possible.

You must not form a Christmas bubble if you are self-isolating. See information on self-isolation and Christmas bubbles below.

1.1 If you’re in a support bubble

Existing support bubbles count as one household towards the three household limit. This means that if you are in a support bubble, you can collectively form a Christmas bubble with two other households. This applies only to support bubbles as set out in law. You should, however, consider the risks of doing so and keep your Christmas bubble as small as possible. If you are in a support bubble with someone who is over 70 or clinically extremely vulnerable, think carefully. To help reduce the risks to their health, the safest approach would be to celebrate with your household or support bubble and not with others.

The two households in a support bubble can choose to join separate Christmas bubbles.

Read guidance on making and using a support bubble

1.2 If you’re in a childcare bubble

Between 23 and 27 December, you can continue to use a childcare bubble, but only if reasonably necessary for the purposes of childcare and where there are no reasonable alternatives. If you want to meet socially with the other household in your childcare bubble, you should include them in your Christmas bubble. You and the other household in your childcare bubble would count as two households towards the three household limit for Christmas bubbles.

Read guidance on making and using a childcare bubble

1.3 Separated parents of children under 18

Children (under-18) whose parents do not live together may be part of both parents’ Christmas bubbles, if their parents choose to form separate bubbles. Nobody else should be in two bubbles.

1.4 Forming a different Christmas bubble to the people you live with normally

You are allowed to form a different Christmas bubble from the people you live with normally. If you and the people you are living with want to be in different Christmas bubbles, you can choose to stay somewhere else with different people for this period and form a Christmas bubble with that household and one other household (this will count as three households). You should check the guidance on households where everybody is not in the same Christmas bubble below.

1.5 If you’re a student who’s moved home from university for the holidays

If you are a student who has moved home for the university holidays, you are considered to be part of the household to which you have returned. You are not treated as part of your term-time household for this period.

2. Meeting with your Christmas bubble, and other friends and family

To protect you and your loved ones, think very carefully about the risks of forming a bubble. Only do so if you feel you need to. Everybody in a Christmas bubble is responsible for taking clear steps to prevent catching and spreading the virus. If you do not follow these rules, you increase the risk of catching the virus, and spreading it to your friends and family.

You should take particular care to follow this advice if you are in a Christmas bubble with anybody who is vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable. There is further advice on what to do if you are clinically extremely vulnerable further down this page.

2.1 Before forming and meeting your Christmas bubble

If you decide to form a Christmas bubble, take precautions to minimise risk by stopping unnecessary social contact outside your immediate household as soon as possible and for at least five days before meeting your Christmas bubble.

Children should continue to go to school and workers who cannot work from home may continue to go to their place of work. Any increase in contact with other people increases the risk you will catch or spread coronavirus.

2.2 Meeting your Christmas bubble indoors

If you do decide to form a bubble, you should minimise the time you spend with them. The five day period between the 23 December and 27 December is a maximum, not a target. Keep visits as short as you can because the risk of transmission increases the longer you spend together. You should not stay overnight unless absolutely unavoidable.

Between 23 to 27 December, if you form a Christmas bubble, do not meet with friends and family that you do not live with in your home or garden unless they are part of your Christmas bubble. You can continue to meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier you are meeting people in, but should aim to minimise all non-essential contact. There are specific guidelines for those who have chosen to form a different Christmas bubble from the people they normally live with, and for those who choose not to form a Christmas bubble.

If someone is in your Christmas bubble, you can visit each other’s homes. You can also go to a place of worship together, or meet in public outdoor spaces.

You cannot meet your Christmas bubble in any other indoor setting, such as a pub, hotel, shop, theatre, or restaurant. In these settings, rules on who you can and cannot meet depend on your tier.

We know that it’s easier to catch and spread the virus in an indoor space, especially if there is little flow of fresh air. Therefore, when meeting your Christmas bubble you should take these measures to prevent the spread of the virus:

  • wash your hands frequently
  • clean touch points regularly, such as door handles and surfaces
  • keep socially distanced from anybody you do not live with as much as possible
  • make sure you let as much fresh air in as you can during a visit and after visitors have left, without getting cold, by opening windows and doors

People may continue to work in other people’s homes where necessary, such as for nannies, cleaners or tradespeople. To reduce risk, they should observe social distancing wherever possible, and where it can be avoided should not go into homes that are hosting Christmas bubbles.

2.3 Meeting your Christmas bubble outdoors

You can be with your Christmas bubble in your garden or an outdoor public place. You can continue to meet people who are not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier you are meeting in, but should aim to avoid all unnecessary contact during this period.

Outdoor public places include:

  • parks, beaches, parts of the countryside open to the general public
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • allotments
  • playgrounds

3. Households where everybody is not in the same Christmas bubble

If you have chosen to form a different Christmas bubble from other people in your household – the people you live with normally – you should take additional steps to prevent the opportunity for the virus to spread within your household, and between bubbles.

This might include:

  • staying with another member of your Christmas bubble between 23 and 27 December where possible
  • taking extra precautions such as cleaning surfaces and contact points like door handles and letting in as much fresh air as possible after someone has visited your household

4. If you choose not to form a Christmas bubble

If you choose not to form a Christmas bubble, you should continue to follow the rules in your area. In a tier 1 area this would mean that you can see others inside a private dwelling in a group of no more than six, provided that they too are from a tier 1 area and have not formed a Christmas bubble.

You can also continue to see your support bubble if you have one.

5. Self-isolation and Christmas bubbles

You must also follow rules on self-isolation, which apply if either you, someone you live with, someone in your childcare or support bubble, or someone you have been in contact with, has symptoms or has tested positive for coronavirus. This means you must not form a Christmas bubble if you have coronavirus symptoms or are self-isolating. These rules are the law and you must follow them even if it means not meeting with friends or family over Christmas.

If a member of your Christmas bubble tests positive for coronavirus or develops coronavirus symptoms between the 23 and 27 December, or up to 48 hours after members of the bubble last met, all members of the bubble must self-isolate as if they were members of the same household.

6. If you are clinically extremely vulnerable

It is particularly important that we all think about the risks to more vulnerable people whilst recognising how hard it can be to maintain good physical and mental health without essential contact with family and friends. If you do decide to form a Christmas bubble you should take extra precautions set out in Guidance for the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable. Others in your bubble should be mindful of your increased risks and be extra vigilant in the days before you get together.

If you are in an existing household or support bubble with someone who is clinically extremely vulnerable, think carefully. To help reduce the risks to their health, the safest approach would be to celebrate with your household or support bubble and not with others.

7. If you are a care home resident

The guidance on care homes applies to England – see guidance for WalesScotland, and Northern Ireland.

Spending time with others outside the care home will increase risk of exposure to coronavirus for the resident and the other residents in their home on their return, and is likely to place an additional burden on the care home. Given this, visits out of care homes should only be considered for care home residents of working age. Residents, their families and care homes should very carefully consider whether this is the right thing to do, or whether visiting at the care home would provide meaningful contact in a safer way. Guidance on care home visits is available.

Some residents of working age may be able to leave their care home to form a bubble, in agreement with the home and subject to individual risk assessments. A care home resident may form a bubble with one other household, 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, wash hands regularly, and let plenty of fresh air into rooms by opening windows and doors.

Others in the household should take steps to minimise the risk to the care home resident and others in the care home, recognising that introducing coronavirus to a care home puts all those who live and work there at risk. All members of the bubble should:

  • take steps to minimise their potential exposure to coronavirus by limiting the number of people they meet for two weeks prior to allowing a care home resident into their household
  • talk to the care home about getting tested prior to meeting the care home resident outside the care home

In order to safely return to the care home, the resident will need to be tested and isolated. We will provide further details shortly through the publication of relevant guidance.

Guidance on visits out of care homes

8. Travel and overnight stays with your Christmas bubble

If you are forming a Christmas bubble, you should consider carefully the risks of travelling at all. If you live in an area with the highest level of protection, for example, tier 3 in England, you should avoid travelling to lower prevalence areas where possible.

If you have to travel, book ahead to enable you and others to travel safely and plan your outward and return journeys carefully. Once you arrive, you should stay local and avoid unnecessary travel within the area after you arrive.

You cannot travel to see your bubble before 23 December, or stay with them after the 27 December, except in exceptional circumstances (for example, in the event of unforeseen travel disruption, or if a member of your Christmas bubble develops symptoms of coronavirus and you are required to self-isolate). This includes anyone travelling to or from Northern Ireland however where travel arrangements require it, those travelling to or from Northern Ireland may travel from 22 December up until 28 December.

Transport routes may be busier than normal. If you do need to travel, you should:

  • plan ahead, check for disruption before you leave, and avoid the busiest routes, as well as busy times
  • avoid making unnecessary stops during your journey
  • avoid sharing a car with people not in your household or Christmas bubble
  • keep your distance from other people when you travel, where possible
  • wash or sanitise your hands regularly

If you plan to travel to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, you should read guidance from ScotlandWales or Northern Ireland before you travel.

If you need to travel with your Christmas bubble, wherever you are, you should follow Safer travel guidance.

Access further information on travel

If necessary, you can stay in a hotel during the Christmas period, in line with the rules in your tier. This includes tier 3: Very High alert areas between 22 and 28 December, as long as you are staying by yourself, or with other members of your household. You should not gather as a Christmas bubble in a hotel, hostel or B&B in any tier unless a member of your bubble lives there permanently. This is also the case for other types of non-private residence (for example an educational establishment or Bed & Breakfast). If this applies to you, do not mix with your Christmas bubble in any shared facilities or spaces, like a restaurant.

If necessary, you can stay in private rented accommodation with members of your household, or your Christmas bubble.

9. After meeting your Christmas bubble

After your last meeting with your Christmas bubble, you should reduce your contact with people you do not live with as much as possible.

While the rules relevant to your local tier will apply, you should exercise extra caution, and think carefully about whether to meet up with friends or family outside your household. This includes not meeting up with them for New Years Eve, even if you feel well. Around one in three people with coronavirus don’t have symptoms, and can still pass it on.

You can go to work if you cannot work from home, but you should avoid unnecessary social interaction. Any increase in contact with other people increases the risk you will catch or spread coronavirus.

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