The UK Government and devolved administrations agreed a joint plan to relax social distancing rules over the festive period, allowing friends and family to hug for the first time in months. A joint statement issued by the four UK governments said they had been working closely together to find a way for family and friends to see each other, recognising it must be “limited and cautious”.
Each Christmas bubble can meet at home, at a place of worship or an outdoor public location, but existing, more restrictive rules on hospitality and other venues will be maintained throughout the period.
But the Scottish First Minister has broken ranks to declare that the existing “bubbles” would not be treated as one household in Scotland over the festive season.
She said mixing of bubbles would be “going too far” as it could see up to six households mingling in one place.
And in a sign of possible tougher rules to come, the SNP leader said Scots should send gift vouchers to their loved ones this Christmas instead of presents.
The SNP-led government is expected to issue guidance on how Scots should celebrate Christmas on Thursday.
Ms Sturgeon warned the advice would “look to tighten around the edges rather than further expand.”
She also said anyone heading to the Scottish islands to celebrate Christmas would not be granted extra days to travel.
Her proposed plan is in stark contrast the festive rules set to be rolled out across Northern Ireland, England and Wales.
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Ms Sturgeon’s warning comes after Boris Johnson said up to three households can gather indoors for celebrations over the Christmas period.
As part of a five-day temporarily easing of some restrictions, the prime minister said people will be allowed to mix in homes and places of worship from December 23 to 27.
He also said travel restrictions would be rolled back.
Mr Johnson told families they must make a “personal judgment” about the risks of coronavirus to vulnerable loved ones when forming a Christmas bubble and urged them to “think carefully”.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has said the decision to agree a relaxing of restrictions over Christmas was to avoid a “free for all”.
Mr Drakeford told Good Morning Britain: “I think it was very clear to us from the advice we received at the Cobra meeting, but also from what we hear in Wales, that unless we found a formula that allowed people to get together over Christmas, people were very unlikely to be willing to stick to the current level of restrictions that we have here in Wales.
“So the choice was between a guided form of meeting over Christmas or people simply making their own solutions.”
He said it was “not a matter of encouraging people” to gather over the festive period.
On Wednesday the UK recorded its highest daily COVID death toll since the beginning of May.
A further 696 people died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, according to the Government’s coronavirus dashboard.
This is the highest daily total since 726 deaths were reported on May 5 – but a mid-week rise can be due to delays in reporting deaths over the weekend.