Three households will be allowed to mix for up to five days in a plan to allow families to reunite at Christmas, the government has confirmed.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said in a statement that people could form Christmas bubbles that would last for five days, from December 23 to December 27.
Travel restrictions have been lifted so people can travel across different local lockdown areas and to different UK nations.
But there are limits. Once a bubble has been formed, it cannot change or be extended.
Bubbles can mix within private homes, places of worship and outdoors, but they cannot go to pubs, restaurants or other hospitality settings.
While people do not legally have to self-isolate in the run-up to visiting someone who may be elderly or clinically vulnerable, the government will issue guidance urging caution.
He said: “The UK-wide agreement reached today will offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year.
“We know that the Christmas period this year will not be normal, but following constructive discussions between the UK government and the devolved administrations, families and friends will now have the option to meet up in a limited and cautious way across the UK should they wish.
“In coming to this agreement, we have listened to scientific and clinical advice on how best to minimise the risk and reach a balanced and workable set of rules that we hope will allow people to spend time together at this important time of year.”
On Tuesday, the deaths of 608 people were reported by the government, with 535 in England, 41 in Scotland, 21 in Wales and 11 in Northern Ireland.
It means the UK’s Covid-19 death toll now stands at 55,838 – the fifth highest in the world.
The government also reported 11,299 new infections on Tuesday, with official figures showing there were 1,487 coronavirus patients on ventilators as of November 23.
On Monday, prime minister Boris Johnson laid out plans for what restrictions will look like on December 2 when England’s lockdown ends, with a reinforced three tier system of rules set to be put back in place.
The news came as the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine trial reported efficacy rates of as high as 90% for its jab.
Both Pfizer and biotech company Moderna have already said their vaccines offer around 95% protection.
But ministers and health experts have warned that it could still be some time before restrictions are able to be completely lifted.