Boris Johnson said the festive relaxation of restrictions would go ahead across the UK – but he warned the public to ‘avoid elderly people wherever possible’

Festive rules allowing families to mix over Christmas will go ahead – but with tougher warnings about the coronavirus risks.

After crisis talks between ministers and the devolved leaders, the planned relaxation of restrictions will continue next week despite warnings from medical experts about the dangers.

Boris Johnson said the move would go ahead “in principle” as the government did not want to “criminalise” people’s long held festive plans.

But he urged families to “avoid contact with elderly people wherever possible”.

Moments later, the agreement descended into chaos as Wales decided to diverge from the UK-wide approach.

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said the number of households allowed to form a bubble would be reduced to two, rather than three.


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And he said Wales would go into full lockdown from December 28, with tighter restrictions for household mixing, staying at home, holiday accommodation and travel.

Nicola Sturgeon said Scots would be told to meet for one day only and not to stay overnight.

However the three-household limit would remain.

Under rules agreed last month, up to three households can form a ‘Christmas bubble’ from December 23-27.

The five-day festive break allowed people from any tier to travel across the UK to spend Christmas with their family.

The leaders of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales held discussions with Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove on Tuesday over whether to press ahead with the Christmas plans – but talks broke up without agreement.

Discussions resumed on Wednesday morning amid pressure on ministers to tear up the plans after medical journals warned the relaxation of rules was a “blunder” that will cost “many lives”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer appeared to announce he now wants to cancel the Christmas bubble system at Prime Minister’s Questions.

He quoted a joint call by the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal to cancel Christmas bubbles and said “the Prime Minister should listen to that advice – not just ignore it as usual.”


Boris Johnson tells Brits to ‘avoid elderly people wherever possible’ this Christmas
Mr Johnson replied: “I wish he had the guts to say what he really wants to do which is to cancel the plans people have made and cancel Christmas.

“I can tell him that as of today and just this morning there is actually unanimous agreement across all the UK government across all the devolved administrations including members of all parties… that we should proceed in principle with the existing regulations.

“Because we don’t want to criminalise people’s long made plans.

“But we do think it’s absolutely vital that people should, at this very, very tricky time, exercise a high degree of personal responsibility, especially when they come into contact with elderly people and avoid contact with elderly people wherever possible.”

He urged people to “exercise extreme caution” over Christmas, adding: “We can celebrate it sensibly but we have to be extremely cautious in the way we behave.”

The Labour leader said in some places the infection rate had gone up by 70% and Dominic Cummings’ lockdown trip had cost public trust.

Looking back on 2020 he asked: “Does the Prime Minister now accept his slowness to respond led to more deaths, a longer lockdown and deeper economic damage?”

Mr Johnson bluntly replied “No”, called for “a little less carping” and Mr Starmer’s only solution was to “lock the country down”.

But Mr Starmer said the UK’s huge death rate of over 60,000 “isn’t bad luck, it’s not inevitable, it’s a result of the Prime Minister’s choices.”

Earlier, Cabinet Minister Robert Jenrick urged people to treat Easter as the “new Christmas”.

He said his own wider family will now meet on video calls instead of in person.

Meanwhile, Mr Drakeford said a “sustained rise” in Covid-19 cases meant Wales would have to tighten restrictions.

He told a briefing: “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.

“None of us wants to be ill this Christmas. And we don’t want to give coronavirus to our close family or friends.”

He said Wales would go into full lockdown after Christmas on December 28 – and some measures will come into force on Christmas Eve.

All non-essential retail, including close contact services such as beauty salons, and all leisure and fitness centres forced to close from the end of the day.

All hospitality premises will be forced to close from 6pm on Christmas Day.

What are the Christmas rules?

  • Between 23 and 27 December, you can form a “Christmas bubble comprised of people from three households
  • You can travel between tiers and between UK nations to meet your bubble
  • You can only meet in homes, places of worship or public outdoor spaces – not pubs or restaurants
  • You can meet people outside your bubble according to your local rules