Groups of up to three households from all UK nations may meet up over a five-day Christmas period from 23 to 27 December, the government announced last night. Members of these 'Christmas bubbles' may mix indoors and stay at each other's houses over this period.


Travel to and from bubbles must take place within this period, unless you are travelling to or from Northern Ireland, in which case you may travel on 22 or 28 December.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned that travellers should be cautious. "I would appeal to people to think very carefully about their travel plans and consider where they are going to travel and look at the various alternatives available," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine at the University of East Anglia, believes that the mental health benefits of seeing family over Christmas are worth the risk of increased transmission.

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“Any relaxation of the restrictions over the Christmas period will almost inevitably lead to some increase in transmission and therefore, illness, hospitalisations and sadly deaths," he said. "The issue is whether that increased risk is tolerable in relation to the benefits.

"At that time schools will be closed so there would naturally be some downward pressure on transmission. Also, if the new tier system is working well and local authorities are placed into a more appropriate tier this time around then there will be a downward pressure on transmission before and after the Christmas break.

England will return to a three-tier system following the end of lockdown on 2 December, but each tier will face tougher restrictions. However, government scientists have warned that a fourth tier could be necessary to stop the growth of COVID-19 cases."

He added: "The benefits on people’s mental health of being to meet up with family over this time should not be underestimated. Carley and colleagues undertook a systematic review of the literature and found that suicides declined over Christmas.

“My personal view is that some relaxation of the rules in line with what is currently being reported will have sufficient benefits to justify the additional risks for the COVID epidemic.

"Providing that the new tier system is better managed than in October any increase in cases could be relatively short lived. After Christmas we will still have to live through a few more months of restrictions at least.

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"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.”

How can I protect myself from the coronavirus when shopping?

You’ll have seen signs in your local supermarket advising you to keep two metres from others while moving around the store. This is key to reducing your chances of catching the virus while shopping.

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is spread through respiratory droplets that leave our mouth and nose when we cough, sneeze, or sometimes even talk. The droplets sprayed out by an infected person will contain the virus, which could then enter your body via your mouth, nose or eyes (this is why you shouldn’t be touching your face).

Respiratory droplets don’t usually travel more than one metre, so by keeping two metres from others, you’ll reduce the likelihood of being in the firing line. To make it easier to keep your distance, try to shop during off-peak hours, choose a store that’s limiting the number of people who can be inside at any one time, and use self-checkout if you can.

Keeping your hands clean is the other main thing you can do. If possible, wipe the trolley or basket handles with a disinfectant wipe when you arrive at the store. When you get home, wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before and after unpacking your bags.

A US study found that the coronavirus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to three days on hard, shiny surfaces such as plastic, so wiping down your purchases with a disinfectant spray or a soapy cloth before you put them away is another good habit to get into.

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Sara RigbyOnline staff writer, BBC Science Focus

Sara is the online staff writer at BBC Science Focus. She has an MPhys in mathematical physics and loves all things space, dinosaurs and dogs.