New measures mean that three households can meet at home for five days during the festive period, mix indoors and stay overnight while “restrictive rules on hospitality” remain in place.
A joint statement from the UK Government and devolved administrations about Christmas arrangements said: “We have agreed travel restrictions across the four administrations and between tiers will be lifted to provide a window for households to come together between 23 and 27 December.
“Up to three households can form an exclusive ‘bubble’ to meet at home during this period. When a bubble is formed, it is fixed and must not be changed or extended further at any point.
“Each Christmas bubble can meet at home, at a place of worship or an outdoor public place but existing, more restrictive rules on hospitality and meeting in other venues will be maintained throughout this period.”
Northern Ireland has granted a longer window of 22 to 28 December, to help allow time to travel between the nations.
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin slammed the announcement and cited data showing the low levels of virus transmission in hospitality settings.
“These plans for Christmas make a mockery of the extra restrictions being placed on pubs and the economic devastation they are facing this Christmas,” she said.
“How can it be that pubs cannot properly open while households can mix in private settings? The Government data has consistently shown that house-to-house transmission is one of the highest, whereas hospitality has accounted for as little as 2% of Covid-19 incidences when open.
“Pubs are a controlled, safe and regulated environment to socialise in – following all Government guidelines and working with NHS Track and Trace.
“They are part of the solution for a safe and enjoyable Christmas, not the problem. It seems the Government has chosen to inflict unnecessary pain and irreversible damage on our sector without publishing evidence alongside these decisions.
“If the Government is really going to stop pubs from opening this Christmas then they must be fully compensated. Christmas is the most important time of the year for trade in our sector. This year more than ever.”
McClarkin added: “Without it, thousands will not survive the winter unless the Government does the right thing and steps in with financial support to help them. That means grants that fully cover their fixed costs, like during the first lockdown.
“We all need some festive cheer after this tough year and we want everyone to be able to enjoy a beer in their local pub with family and friends this Christmas, safely. After all, Christmas just won’t be the same if we can’t go to the local.”
Excluding hospitality businesses from the Christmas rules will cause the trade more harm, according to UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls.
“This is rapidly turning into the nightmare before Christmas for hospitality. While no one begrudges families getting together over the festive season, the safest place to do so would be in well-managed and controlled hospitality venues,” she said.
“It is also surely better for hotels to be open and providing a place to stay than multiple households being cramped in a single house.
“For the Government to exclude these businesses in these new rules, demonstrates muddled thinking and will cause the sector yet more harm coming so soon after the announcement of the new tier restrictions.
“Hospitality venues should be considered part of the solution for providing people a well-deserved safe and enjoyable Christmas, especially given that allowing multiple households to mix in the confines if private homes presents an exponentially greater risk.”