Over the last week there's been new changes to the Christmas COVID-19 restrictions across the UK. We look at what they mean for people with MS.
The Christmas changes have caused disappointment for many of us. And we understand it’s not always easy to find clear messages about the guidance for your situation. Here's the latest information to help support you over the festive period.
Why have Christmas restrictions changed?
Christmas restrictions changed because the number of people with COVID-19 is rising sharply.
This increase has been linked to changes in the coronavirus (a ‘new variant’). It’s normal for a virus to change. But this change affects the restrictions because it seems to be spreading much more quickly. There’s no evidence that it causes more serious infection.
How many households can be in a Christmas bubble?
The number of households who can meet in a Christmas bubble depends on where you live.
- In England tier 4 areas, you’re only allowed to celebrate Christmas with your own household and support bubble (not a new, bigger Christmas bubble). In the rest of England, 3 households can come together on Christmas day only. The advice is to stay local, and people shouldn’t travel into or out of tier 4 areas.
- In Wales, 2 households can meet, on Christmas Day only.
- In Scotland, 3 households (up to a maximum of 8 people) can meet on Christmas Day only.
- In Northern Ireland, 3 households can meet and you can choose to do this on any one day between 23 and 27 December.
What can Christmas bubbles do?
In Christmas bubbles you can meet each other in the home, outdoors or in a place of worship.
You should stay local. If you need to travel, check the restrictions for the area you’re in and the one you want to travel to. For example, for a Christmas bubble you shouldn’t travel into or out of England tier 4 areas, or into and out of Scotland.
If you’re self-isolating or have COVID-19 symptoms, you shouldn’t join a bubble.
Government advice is to take a cautious approach. They say you should only see people outside your own household if you feel you really need to.
Staying safe within bubbles
Forming a Christmas bubble is a personal choice and should be balanced against the increased risk of infection. It’s important you don’t feel pressured to celebrate Christmas in an environment that makes you anxious.
If you decide to form a Christmas bubble, government advice includes
Keep up social distance from people you don’t normally live with, avoiding physical contact
Everyone should wash their hands regularly
Any space where you spend time with people you don’t normally live with should be kept well-ventilated
Clean touch points regularly, like door handles and surfaces
Other people in your bubble
There may be a lot of expectation and pressure around celebrating Christmas together. But you should feel comfortable to do what is right for you over this period.
To do that, it is important other people in your Christmas bubble understand your needs and any increased risk. They can help by
- being extra vigilant in the days before you get together
- reducing any unnecessary contact with people, especially as some people with the virus have no symptoms.
Once the Christmas bubble period ends, you should follow the guidance that was in place before Christmas, in line with the restrictions for your local area.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people
You can choose to be part of a Christmas bubble if you’re considered clinically extremely vulnerable. But this may involve greater risks for you. You’ll be increasing the number of people you have contact with.
People who are clinically extremely vulnerable in tier 4 are being advised to shield and stay at home at all times. And Christmas bubbles are not allowed for anyone in tier 4.
I live alone - can I travel across tiers to be with my support bubble?
If you live alone and are part of a support bubble, you can travel across tiers if you need to. This kind of bubble has different rules and guidance from a Christmas bubble.
But you and the rest of your support bubble should take steps to keep the risks as low as possible. This could include strict hygiene and social distancing if you meet. Everyone in the support bubble should also make efforts to stay away from anyone outside the bubble.
Ways to stay connected this Christmas
We know many people have felt stress, anxiety, isolation and loneliness this year. These feelings can be made worse during holiday times. We know too that some people don’t have a support bubble and may live alone. So this year, when many of us can't see loved ones, we need to make a special effort.
Trying to stay connected can feel difficult. But physically distant doesn’t mean having to be socially distant. It’s not the same as human touch and face-to-face contact, but there are a number of ways to connect with other people.
- Simple things like talking on the phone or connecting with others on social media can help. Technology can help see people over Christmas on video calls and take part in Christmas, even if not in the same house.
- Opening gifts together on a video call or even having meals or drinks on video calls can help ease the isolation.
- Some people find benefits in the structure and routine of Christmas planning. Finding ways to relax, be creative and ways to keep your mind stimulated might help.
The charity Mind has more ideas on how to spend Christmas.
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