UK eases restrictions so families can gather over Christmas

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Moderate traffic as the sun sets on Piccadilly, in London, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Haircuts, shopping trips and visits to the pub will be back on the agenda for millions of people when a four-week lockdown in England comes to an end next week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

LONDON – British authorities gave the green light Tuesday to holiday reunions, relaxing restrictions on social mixing over Christmas and offering arriving international travelers a way to cut short quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19.

The U.K. government and administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland struck a deal that will ease limits on travel and socializing over the festive period so that friends and families can get together. Over the five days between Dec. 23 and 27, up to three households can form a “Christmas bubble” and members can move freely between them. Those travelling to and from Northern Ireland will be permitted to travel for an additional day either side.

People are currently barred from visiting members of other households in much of the U.K., and there are limits on travel to high-infection areas,

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the agreement “will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.”

Government scientific advisers have signed off on the holiday plan, though scientists have warned it will likely lead to an increase in coronavirus infections.

Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, noted that the easing will be taking place when schools will be closed, which should dampen down on transmissions.

“Christmas, whether or not we celebrate the day as a religious festival, may be what we need to make it through the rest of winter,” he said.

In a boost to holiday travel, the 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers arriving in England from most destinations will be reduced to as little as five days if they test negative for COVID-19.