By Tirion Davies | Editor-in-Chief
The four UK nations have collectively decided to keep the relaxed Christmas COVID-19 rules previously put in place, acknowledging that members of the public would become confused if the regulations were to change a week ahead of Christmas.
Despite this, Wales and Scotland have strengthened their guidance, and have announced further measures to be put in place surrounding December 25.
The rules will still be relaxed across the UK between December 23 and 27, but people across Wales are being told to limit their Christmas bubbles to a maximum of two households where possible.
People in Scotland are being asked to only meet one of the five days of the Christmas relaxation period.
Rules were previously set out by all four UK nations, noting that between December 23 and 27, you are able to form a “Christmas bubble” with people from three households.
During this period, you are able to travel between tiers and between UK nations to meet those within your bubble. You are only able to meet in homes, places of worship, or public outdoor spaces, and pubs and restaurants will not be included in this. You are able to meet those that are outside of your bubble but only according to your local rules.
Wales will be placed into an “alert level four” from December 28, which is the most similar to the level of restrictions experienced during the first lockdown in March, and the firebreak lockdown experienced in Wales over the autumn period. This is no set date that this will end.
What’s happening in Wales?
The rules regarding forming a bubble with three households has not formally changed, but Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is urging people to reduce their bubble to two households, saying,
“A smaller Christmas is a safer Christmas, a shorter Christmas is a safer Christmas and here in Wales the advice of the Welsh Government is that only two households should come together”.
People living alone will still be able to join with another household in order to form one household as a support bubble, and divorced or separated parents will still be able to continue with their previous childcare methods.
All non-essential shops will close in Wales after Christmas Eve shopping ends. Boxing Day deals will not exist in-store, though some retailers may offer an online alternative.
Close-contact services, such as salons and leisure centers will also be required to close ahead of Christmas.
Pubs, bars, and restaurants will close at 18:00 GMT on Christmas Day, the last of the hospitality premises to close during this period.
What is an alert level four?
Alert level four is the most severe of the tier levels in the UK. A steep rise in COVID-19 cases in Wales was found over the past few months following the firebreak lockdown and it has lead to counties across Wales holding the highest level of COVID-19 cases in the UK.
According to the Welsh First Minister, more than 2,100 people, “equivalent to five full general hospitals” were being treated by the NHS for COVID-19 in Wales. One in five COVID-19 tests in Wales are currently returning a positive result, he said.
During this lockdown period in alert level four, people will be expected to stay at home, with travel to be limited to essential reasons only.
Beginning from December 28, public facilities and holiday accommodation will need to close, and wedding receptions and wakes will need to be called off.
Schools, colleges, and childcare providers will remain open, in addition to higher education institutions, places of worship, outdoor playgrounds and public parks, and crematoriums. With exceptions in certain circumstances, community facilities in a limited capacity will be open, and some weddings will go under review.
All other services, including visitor attractions, entertainment venues, wakes and wedding receptions, leisure and fitness facilities, and close-contact services will be closed. Non-essential retail will remain closed during this period, in addition to hospitality premises, and holiday facilities.
The lockdown period has no end date, though the Welsh Government has stated they will review the circumstances every three weeks from the beginning of January.
Although counties in Wales are the most heavily affected, the restrictions will be put in place across Wales in order to ensure the virus does not spread further.
Everyone who is able to work from home is being urged to do so ahead of Christmas, and local authorities will decide individually whether local services such as libraries can remain open before the alert level four lockdown period.
Wednesday will be the last school day for pupils across Wales, although many have already turned to online learning.
The Welsh Government has stated the enforcement of regulations will be strengthened in order to ensure all measures are in place and are being followed and observed across Wales to halt the further spread of the virus across the Christmas period.