New guidelines for families and friends meeting up at Christmas have been released by the Scottish Government.
Earlier this week it was confirmed that up to three households can form a bubble between December 23 and 27, and that travel restrictions across the UK will be lifted.
But yesterday the first minister urged people to consider whether they need to meet up at all over the festive season.
The Scottish Government has now issued a Q&A on the issue.
Key points include that an extended household counts as one of the three households allowed to meet in the bubble - although there should be no more than eight people over the age of 12.
People are also being encouraged to let in as much fresh air as possible during and after a visit, stay two metres away from each other as much as possible, and avoid sharing cutlery and crockery.
The government's full Q&A is below.
What’s the safest way to spend Christmas and the festive period?
The safest way to spend Christmas and the festive period is to stay within your own household, in your own home and your own local area.
Whilst we are providing guidance on how people can spend Christmas time with others to help prevent loneliness and isolation, our advice is that wherever possible you should keep in touch with friends and family members from other households through technology - or, if you decide to meet in person, you should minimise the numbers and duration, and if possible meet out of doors. Consider a Christmas walk with family, rather than a meal indoors.
Just because we are providing advice on how to spend Christmas with other people, should you consider that necessary for your own personal circumstances, it does not mean you have to do it, and you should not feel pressured to spend Christmas in or with another household.
Over the past few months, we have all made sacrifices to keep ourselves and loved ones safe. Now that effective vaccines are on the horizon and the hope of a return to more normality by next spring is growing, we must all consider carefully the risk that is associated with coming together for Christmas.
What rules will change and for how long?
During the period 23rd December to 27th December inclusive, there will be a limited relaxation of the COVID-19 rules to allow people to travel within the UK to spend Christmas together, in “Bubbles” of up to three households if they wish. The rules about what a bubble is and what it means for you and your household are below.
This is being done not to encourage people to mix with other households, but because the Scottish Government recognises that isolation and loneliness can hit people particularly hard over the Christmas period and that some may therefore feel it necessary to do so.
Should my household "bubble" with another household over Christmas?
It is important to stress that using this temporary relaxation of rules is a personal decision and individuals and households must consider carefully the risks to them and others of increasing social contact.
The virus won’t take Christmas off. If we provide it with opportunities to spread from household to household, it is likely to take them.
And regardless of the temporary relaxation set out above, if you are currently isolating as a close contact, or if you have had a positive test and have not completed your isolation period, you should not mix with others outside your immediate household. If you have Covid symptoms you should isolate and ask for a test.
There are older or vulnerable people in my household – does this apply to us?
If your household or the people you would meet in a bubble consists of elderly people or people who are clinically vulnerable, it is particularly important that you consider the risks, and you may wish to avoid mixing to reduce the risk of passing on the virus – particularly if your ‘bubble’ would mean younger people, particularly young adults, mixing with older people.
Travel to or from an area with high prevalence of the virus also carries additional risk of transmission which may make it safer to stay at home.
Remember under the normal rules, you can already provide care to someone in their home, without forming a bubble.
You should consider all of these factors before deciding how to spend Christmas.
If you do decide to spend Christmas with family and friends, what follows is guidance to help you to minimise the risk and stay as safe as possible. However, this guidance will not eradicate the risk.
What do I need to do before forming a bubble?
You should limit your social contact with others as far as you can before and after forming a bubble to minimise transmission risks and to protect your loved ones.
What is a bubble?
Between 23 – 27 December, you can form a bubble of up to three households, one of which can be an extended household. However, we would recommend that you keep any bubble to a maximum of 8 people. Children under the age of 12 from these households need not count towards the total number of people counted in the bubble. Children under 12 do not need to maintain physical distance from others
Do we have to maintain 2m distance if we form a bubble?
You should remain 2m away from people outside of your household as much as possible. The closer you are to other people the more chance the virus will have to transmit between you.
Where can a bubble meet?
Bubbles can only gather in a private home (to meet or stay the night), outdoors or at a place of worship.
If meeting in a home you should remember to follow FACTS as much as possible. You should wash hands and surfaces, and ensure there is a window or door open as good ventilation can help to disperse the virus.
In all other settings, such as hospitality, leisure or entertainment venues (indoors and outdoors), those who have formed a bubble should remain within their own household and not mix with others.
I don’t want to form a bubble, what rules apply to me?
A person or household who decide not to form a bubble should follow the rules in place for the local authority area they live in.
I’m in an extended household, do I have to form a bubble?
No one has to form a bubble. An extended household can meet in line with the normal rules as just one household.
If you do want to form a bubble, extended households count as one of the three households, but we recommend that there should be no more than 8 people over the age of 12 in the bubble. There should be no more than one extended household per bubble.
You should think carefully about what you do during this period, balancing increased social contact with the need to keep the risk of increased transmission of the virus as low as possible. This is particularly important when considering those who are vulnerable. View more information on extended households in our guidance on protection levels.
Can children go between households if parents live apart?
Where parents do not live in the same household, children can move between their parents’ homes in different bubbles, and this includes both supervised and unsupervised visitation.
Do students coming home count as different households?
Students who have returned home at the end of term form part of the household they have returned to. All students are being offered testing before returning home. Guidance on students returing home.
I live in a shared flat, are we one household or can we go to different bubbles?
People (other than students) who live in a shared flat or house are considered a household and our strong advice is that households should not split up and enter separate bubbles over the festive period. If you do join different bubbles you should isolate from your flatmates both before and after joining your bubble for around a week.
I have previously been advised to shield, can I form a bubble?
If you or someone in your family have been informed that you are at highest clinical risk from Covid-19 you should take time to think about what being a bubble means for you. Being part of a bubble would involve greater risks for you as you would be increasing the number of people you have contact with. It is important that you do not feel pressured to celebrate the festive season in an environment that makes you anxious.
Everyone in the bubble should agree what steps to take in the run up to the festive period, and during the festive bubble period, that will keep those at highest clinical risk safe. Link to further guidance on this to follow.
I provide care to someone can I still support them?
You can still go into another household, which is not part of your bubble, to provide care and support for a vulnerable person. Read Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for unpaid carers.
If I form a bubble can I continue to visit people in hospital, hospice or a care home?
Forming a bubble increases the risk that you will be exposed to Covid-19 and could pass it on to other people.
People in care homes, hospitals and hospices can be particularly vulnerable.
The safest way to spend Christmas if you want to visit someone in a care home, hospital or hospice would be to stay within your own household and not form a bubble with any other household.
Can I visit someone in prison or detention?
You will still be able to visit a person detained in prison, young offenders institute, remand centre, secure accommodation or other place of detention.
If someone in the bubble develops Covid-19 Symptoms what should I do?
If someone in your bubble develops COVID-19 symptoms, to avoid spreading the virus all members of the bubble must isolate immediately if they met the symptomatic person at any time between 2 days before and up to 10 days after their symptoms started.
If the symptomatic person tests positive, all members of the bubble must isolate for 14 days from the start of symptoms or from when the most recent contact took place. Isolate means staying in your own home or the home you are staying in for the full 14 days.
Read more: Test and Protect: self-solation guidance
What measures can I take to reduce the risk of spreading the virus?
It is easier to catch and spread the virus in an indoor space, especially if there is little flow of fresh air. Therefore, when meeting your bubble you should take these measures to reduce the risk of spreading the virus:
- let in as much fresh air as you can both during and after a visit
- wherever possible keep 2m away from people not in your usual household
- wash your hands frequently
- clean touch points regularly, such as door handles and surfaces
- avoid sharing cutlery or crockery if possible
What are the travel rules over Christmas?
Travel restrictions will be relaxed from 23 – 27 December (inclusive) to allow people to travel between local authority areas and the four nations of the UK to join their bubble.
If using public transport you should make a plan in advance and book ahead where possible. You must also wear a face covering during travel on public transport, unless exempt.
Many services have to be pre-booked. You should book travel as soon as possible. This will ensure you get a seat and give travel operators a good indication of likely demand. Don’t leave it until the last minute.
Those travelling to or from the Scottish Islands should do so within the 5 day period, 23 – 27 December.
While travelling you should minimise stop-offs during journeys except where necessary for safety and respite, and follow the Scottish Government’s guidance on travelling safely.
If you travel to form a bubble, once you arrive you must follow the rules about travel that apply in that local authority area. In a Level 3 or 4 area in Scotland, for example, once you have arrived and formed your bubble you must avoid non-essential travel outside the local authority area in which you are staying. And in an area of Scotland at Level 0, 1, or 2 you must avoid unnecessary travel into any Level 3 or 4 area.
What if there are travel delays or cancellations meaning I cannot return home on 27th December?
You should return home by the 27th. The only exception to this is where you are delayed as a result of travel disruption or ill-health, including self-isolating following a positive covid test or as a contact of someone who has had a positive test.
Can my bubble stay in tourist accommodation?
During the Christmas period those who are part of a bubble should not stay in tourist accommodation. Only those not part of a bubble should plan on staying in tourist accommodation and should follow the tourist accommodation, socialising and travel rules in the local authority area you are staying. For example:
- you should only stay with your own household (or extended household) in self-catering accommodation
- you must not travel into or out of a level 3 or 4 area for tourist accommodation
If I have formed a bubble can we go to hospitality?
Those who have formed a bubble should only socialise in a hospitality, leisure or entertainment venue in your own household (or extended household) for the duration of the festive period.
Socialising and opening hours for pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes are as per the local authority protection levels that the venue is situated in.
If I have formed a bubble can we go to worship together?
Whilst bubbles are permitted to gather in a place of worship during the Christmas period, places of worship are required to take measures to protect individuals, worshippers, staff members and volunteers from infection by COVID-19. Indoor acts of worship are limited to a maximum of 50 people in levels 0 – 3 and 20 in level 4 providing there is sufficient space to maintain 2 metre distancing. Where that is not possible capacity will be reduced.
Can I go to the shops with my bubble?
Retail premises could be busier than normal in the days leading up to Christmas. You should try to avoid times when shops will be busy. Where possible you should shop on your own, or only with children or those who need support, shop local, and use Click and Collect or Delivery services.