As many as three different households will be allowed to mix for five days over the Christmas period, government sources have said, under a UK-wide plan agreed on Friday between ministers and the devolved nations.
Details of the much-touted Christmas relaxation were thrashed out at a Cobra meeting involving the Westminster government and the devolved administrations, and chaired by the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove.
Boris Johnson has spoken for some time of his desire for families to be able to reunite for Christmas, while warning people to still be careful.
The idea of a temporary relaxation over Christmas has brought warnings from public health experts, with government scientists saying their modelling showed the likely need for five days of tougher restrictions to make up for each day of a looser regime during the festive period.
Giving evidence to a Commons committee on Tuesday, Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh, said this would inevitably bring perils.
“People emotionally want to hear reassuring messages,” she told a joint meeting of the health and science committees. “They wanted to hear it over the summer that there would be no second wave, and they want to hear it now that Christmas will be normal.
“I guess I have to speak bluntly: the virus doesn’t care if it’s Christmas. We still have pretty high prevalence across the country. It is risky for people to mix indoors with alcohol with elderly relatives at this point in time.”
The announcement comes a day after Johnson unveiled the wider post-lockdown plan, to come into force when the current England-wide restrictions end on 2 December.
This will, as before the current lockdown, put regions in one of three tiers of ascending strictness, but these are stricter, with more areas expected to be placed in the top two levels.
In every region, all shops, as well as gyms, hairdressers and places of worship, will be allowed to open. But the rules for pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses will be more robust, and in tier 3 they can only operate takeaway and delivery services.