UK announces rules for Christmas ‘bubble’ to keep COVID cases down

Britain will leave a national lockdown next week.

The U.K. government on Tuesday announced that Brits will be allowed to form a Christmas “bubble” consisting of people from three households, as part of a relaxation of rules to allow Christmas celebrations to continue in some form.

"'Tis the season to be jolly, but 'tis also the season to be jolly careful," Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video statement.

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The rules announced by the government say that Brits can be part of one bubble of three households, and cannot change that bubble. They will only be allowed to meet in private homes, places of worship and outdoor spaces. The rules will be in place between December 23rd through the 27th. 

"I know this doesn't equate to a normal Christmas and it won't work for everyone, and it's up to each of us to think carefully about how we use this special time-limited dispensation,” Johnson said.

It’s part of an ambitious, if often-confusing effort, by the government to limit the spread of COVID-19, while allowing Christmas to be celebrated. It mirrors the struggle that American officials are facing in limiting Thanksgiving -- something not celebrated in the U.K.

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“A fixed bubble is a sensible and proportionate way to balance the desire to spend time with others over the Christmas period while limiting the risk of spreading infection,”’ the government said in a statement.

The guidelines were announced as the country, which has been hard hit by the coronavirus, is still undergoing a national lockdown -- which Johnson has said will end on Dec. 2. Johnson himself is currently self-isolating after being exposed to someone with the virus, although he himself was hospitalized in April with the virus.

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020 file photo, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, in London.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020 file photo, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to attend a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, in London.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

The country will move from lockdown to a three-tiered system of restrictions next week, with areas put into those tiers based on how badly they have been hit.

The moves have proved politically damaging for Johnson who has faced a backlash not only from members of the public, but also from his own party who believe the lockdown rules are too harsh. While schools have reopened in full, a 10 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants has been controversial -- particularly over its effect on the economy.

Downing Street says it is hoping to begin a national vaccine program in December, presuming a vaccine is formally approved.

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The lockdown has closed non-essential business like many shops, gyms, bars, restaurants. It also banned most social gatherings.

The number of positive cases has been declining, although the infection rate remains high. More than 54,000 people have died of the virus in the U.K.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.