Three households can mix together for five days between December 23 and 27, regardless of what tier the area is in or whether people have self-isolated in advance.
But Barclay, who is chief secretary to the Treasury, warned the rules should not be “misinterpreted” as “we’re not going from tier 3 to some sort of tier 0”.
“We’ve got to trust the British people to act responsibly and do the minimum that is possible for them in their family situation,” he said.
But what does “doing the minimum” actually mean in practice?
Well, just because three households can meet, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should meet up. You could stick to just seeing one other household.
The fewer different households you mix with over Christmas, the lower your risk of catching or spreading Covid-19. “I would encourage as limited a mixing of households as possible,” Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, previously told HuffPost UK.
Dr Shaun Fitzgerald, visiting professor at Cambridge University, also urges people to think carefully about who they really need to see over Christmas.
“If we all do our bit, and work hard to minimise the risks of transmission especially to our more elderly loved ones – which could mean not seeing them physically this Christmas – then this will not only help our families, but also the NHS,” he said.
“This virus doesn’t take a Christmas vacation, and the physics of transmission pathways remains the same. We can all help break the transmission paths, and this would probably be the best Christmas present we can give.”
Spending less time with those people you do see over Christmas could also be considered doing the minimum – as the longer you spend together, the greater your risk of catching and spreading Covid-19.
Your best bet is to figure out what you want to get out of Christmas Day in advance – and how long you’d like to be with loved ones. For example, could you spend a couple of hours in the morning opening presents together and then head back to your respective homes?
Professor Lucy Yardley, an expert in health psychology at the University of Bristol and University of Southampton, told HuffPost UK: “If you spend hours and hours together, especially if you start drinking, then the longer you stay together, not only is the virus likely to be accumulating in the air and on surfaces, but also your guard will be let down and it’s more likely you’ll start spreading the virus.”
Another way to “do the minimum” is leaving your own home as little as possible for the week or so before you are due to meet loved ones – and that means doing any last minute Christmas shopping online.
“If two households are joining a household over Christmas, it will help if everyone in the household stops all other socialising for at least five days beforehand and during their stay,” says Professor James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute.
This means “no seeing others or no one going to an indoor venue,” he adds.
And if you do plan on seeing others over the festive break, remember to check yourself for symptoms – a temperature, change in sense of smell or a persistent cough – every day for a week beforehand. If you have any of these symptoms, don’t mix with people. Prof Naismith concludes: “The new year will bring the vaccine, doing what we can now will mean more people live to take it.”