Usually, as soon as the shrivelled pumpkins are cleared away and the final firework bangs, our thoughts turn straight to Christmas in London, and the twinkling lights, ice rinks and festive markets that accompany it. This year, though, things have been a little different.
The jolly season was put on pause (at-home Christmas movie marathons and early Christmas tree-buying, aside) with a non-essential travel ban in place, bans on overnight stays and holidays in the UK, closed pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops and restrictions around socialising until December 2. Then the country returned to a tier system.
Now, PM Boris Johnson has announced new, tougher restrictions again which come into force on December 20. So what’s the deal?
Will we be able to travel to see family and friends around Christmas?
England is split into regional tiers. The guidance states that people who live in a Tier 3 area should ‘avoid travelling to other parts of the UK, including for overnight stays other than where necessary, such as for work, education, youth services, to receive medical treatment, or because of caring responsibilities.’ All accommodation, including hotels and B&Bs, must remain closed in Tier 3. The guidance for people who live in Tier 2 reads: ‘If you live in a Tier 2 area, you must continue to follow Tier 2 rules when you travel to a Tier 1 area. Avoid travel to or overnight stays in Tier 3 areas other than where necessary... You can travel through a Tier 3 area as a part of a longer journey.’ The advice is the same for residents of Tier 1, although, if they travel to an area in a higher tier they must follow the rules of tier while they are there.
There is also now, as of December 19, new a fourth tier, which London falls into. Tier 4 in London will drastically impact Christmas plans as there is now a ban on travel in and out of the area. People are being told to work from home if they can, and in terms of socialising, you will only be able to see one other person outside your household bubble in outdoor public settings. Londoners are told not to leave the Tier 4 area, and all overnight stays are banned.
So, whether or not you can travel to see friends and family during December will depend on where you and your family and friends live and what tier those areas then fall into. You can find out what tier the area you’d like to visit is in using this government search tool.
It’s worth noting that people from England are currently not allowed or are strongly advised not to visit Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland, though this is going to change for the actual Christmas period.
So there are special rules for Christmas Day?
Yep. All countries within the UK – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – had come to an agreement for a brief relaxation of the rules for the festive period, which meant ‘travel restrictions across the four administrations and between tiers will be lifted to provide a window for households to come together between the December 23 and 27.’ It did mean that, for those five days, people were going to be able to move freely around the UK and have small-scale Christmas gatherings with their festive bubble, irrespective of what tier they live in.
However, the new tighter restrictions, which come into force on December 20, mean the rules for Christmas Day have also changed. Now the rules are only being relaxed for Christmas Day itself.
People living in England’s Tiers 1, 2 and 3 can still meet up to three households in a Christmas bubble, but only on December 25. Bubbles must not include anyone who lives in a Tier 4 area, and people should not travel into a Tier 4 area. So that means Londoners won’t be able to mix with anyone outside their own household, apart from support bubbles, this Christmas.
Outside of England, up to two households can meet inside on Christmas Day in Wales and up to eight people from three households can meet inside in Scotland, though travel across the Scottish border over Christmas is now banned.
Can we stay in hotels over Christmas?
Accommodation providers, such as hotels and B&Bs, in Tiers 1 and 2 can host stays at the moment. However, in Tiers 3 and 4 they must close, unless they are being used for essential work or eduction purposes.
Will we actually be able to celebrate Christmas inside?
If you live in Tier 1, 2 or 3, you are still allowed to meet up to three households inside on Christmas Day. People who live in Tier 4 areas cannot meet anyone from outside their household inside right now, even on December 25.
For the rest of December and the extended festive period, your ability to socialise with pals inside will depend on where in the UK you live. In Tier 1, the ‘rule of six’ will applies both indoors and outdoors, which means small festive gatherings will be allowed to take place in homes and also places like pubs and restaurants.
If you live in a Tier 2 area, the guidance states: ‘you must not socialise with anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble in any indoor setting, whether at home or in a public place.’ You will, however, be allowed to meet up to six people outside, ‘in a garden or public space’, so an alfresco dinner would be possible.
In a Tier 3 area ‘you must not meet socially indoors or in most outdoor places with anybody you do not live with, or who is not in your support bubble. This includes in any private garden or at most outdoor venues’, however the rule of six will apply in outdoor venues like parks or for walks in the countryside.
Find out which tier the area you want to travel to is in here, though remember, if you live in a Tier 4 area like London, you must not leave the area right now.
What about festive holidays?
In lockdown, holidays in the UK and abroad were banned. When lockdown ended, both ‘domestic and international travel [was] permitted again subject to guidance in each tier.’ England has a number of ‘safe’ air bridges with other countries in effect, and there is a quarantine period in place for those returning or arriving from countries not listed as an air bridge.
If you have plans to go away over the actual Christmas period, it’s worth noting that people living in Tier 3 areas are not encouraged to travel and people living in Tier 4 areas, like London, are not permitted to travel abroad. ‘We are asking everyone, in all tiers, to stay local,’ said Boris Johnson on December 19.
Also, in light of new restrictions in England and the rest of the UK, a number of countries in Europe and around the world are now banning travel from the UK in its entirety to avoid importing the new Covid-19 variant. As of December 21, the list of countries includes France, Italy, Germany, Ireland, India, Canada and Hong Kong. You can find the full list here.
Staying in London this Christmas? Here’s are the rules for spending Christmas in Tier 4.
In Tiers 1, 2 or 3? Here’s how to celebrate Christmas safely this year, according to scientists.