Leaders of the four UK nations have agreed that up to 3 households will be allowed to mix across a 5-day period at Christmas.

Following a statement to the public from the Prime Minister on Monday, it has been confirmed that the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions will take place from the 23rd to 27th of December, the day after Boxing Day.

National restrictions are expected to be eased from Wednesday 2nd of December with a system of regional tiers re-introduced across the country after four weeks of lockdown.

During the festive period, guidelines will also allow people to meet members of other households outside of private dwellings (subject to regional ‘tier’ rules) and to travel between tiers and UK nations to create a Christmas ‘bubble’, including on the 22nd and 28th of December for those travelling to and from Northern Ireland.

However, members of the public must not be a part of more than one exclusive bubble at the same time or change their bubble during the period.

The decision to allow a temporary relaxation of lockdown rules was reached in agreement with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in a COBRA meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The announcement came after Johnson said on Monday that the ‘COVID-19 Winter Plan’ will continue until March, but emphasised the importance of Christmas for many, saying: “in a period of adversity, time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none.”

However, scientists have expressed concern about a possible increase in Covid-19 cases caused by a relaxation of the rules, even warning of a potential third wave of coronavirus cases in the New Year. The Government has urged caution when considering forming bubbles over the Christmas period.

The Prime Minister said in his statement, “’Tis the season to be jolly but ‘tis also the season to be jolly careful”, adding that the virus “doesn’t know it’s Christmas”.

The news comes after the University of Oxford announced on Monday that its Covid-19 vaccine had an efficacy of 90% in major clinical trials when participants received a half and then full dose. The news has raised hopes that the vaccine will be widely distributed in early 2021, if approved by regulators.

Professor Andrew Pollard of the Oxford Vaccine Group formally announced the latest results during the Prime Minister’s statement on Monday. The Prime Minister praised the work of the Oxford AstraZeneca team, saying the news “has the makings of a wonderful British scientific achievement”. Johnson said that the government has ordered 150 million doses of the Oxford AstroZeneca vaccine, with over 350 million doses of different vaccines ordered in total.

Within the University this week, it was announced that the University Testing Service will offer rapid in-college Covid-19 tests to all students in the week before the ‘Christmas travel window’ (3rd-9th of December). This service will form the beginning of the University’s new Covid-19 Asymptomatic Testing Service, which from the New Year will operate alongside the current University Early Alert Service for those with Covid-19 symptoms. The Lateral Flow Tests used have undergone trials at Merton and St Hilda’s in the past term.

UK students will be asked to take two tests in the week before their departure, as the Government and universities seek to prevent a surge in cases caused by students returning home to potentially vulnerable family members and loved ones.

The number of positive cases recorded by the University Testing Service has continued to decline steadily since the national lockdown began, with a 17.2% positivity rate for the week 14 – 20 November, 2.8% below the average positivity rate since it was initiated in late August.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons (Magdalen College, Oxford at Christmas, 2011)