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On 25 November 2020, the Governments in the four nations of the UK set out plans to allow families and friends to meet more at Christmas than is currently allowed under coronavirus restrictions.  The regulations set out that during the 23-27 December period three households would be able to form a ‘Christmas bubble.’

However, against a background of increasing prevalence and hospital admissions with Covid-19 in the weeks that followed, concerns were expressed by scientists, healthcare workers and MPs about the impact this relaxation of rules may have on the transmission of Covid-19 and NHS services. 

Concerns have also been increasing about a new strain of coronavirus, VOC– 202012/01, that appears to be more transmissible than previous variants of the virus.  This variant was first identified in Kent and London in September and is now becoming the dominant strain in London, the South East and East of England.  It has been estimated through modelling that the variant could be 70% more transmissible than other variants.

On 19 December, the Prime Minister announced urgent changes to the coronavirus restrictions in England.  This included new ‘tier 4’ restrictions for London, the South East and East of England, and significant changes to the rules for Christmas.  Individuals in tier 4 will be under restrictions similar to those in place during the national lockdown and will not be able to meet with anyone outside their household inside over Christmas.  Those in tiers 1-3 can form an exclusive Christmas bubble with up to two other households but this now only applies on Christmas day. Stricter rules for the Christmas period have also been introduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

There has been some criticism of the announcement on 19 December. The Opposition leader, Sir Keir Starmer, and others have said that the Prime Minister should have made this decision to change restrictions for the festive period earlier, whereas some backbench Conservative MPs have been calling for Parliament to be recalled so a vote can take place on the new regulations implementing the changes.  The Government has said that they acted quickly to introduce a change in the law to control the virus and save lives, and this could not be delayed.

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