Going that extra mile to reach out to friends and family to make memories that last throughout the year has always been at the centre of celebrations around the festive period.
This year, however, I want to ask all of you to think differently about what you can do this festive season to make it special and safe for all those around you.
No matter how much we want to get back to normality, this festive season cannot be normal while we are still tackling Coronavirus.
You should also think about how you can use technology to reach out to people you miss, and whether you can meet outside for a Christmas walk, rather than gather indoors for a meal or around the tree.”
Certainly our health and social care services won’t have a break in the coming weeks. In fact, the NHS feels the pressure even more at this time of year as seasonal illnesses take a grip.
Think carefully and be careful
So my key message to everyone making plans for Christmas is to be careful. The virus won’t be taking the day off and nor should we. So before you think about meeting up with friends and family, my advice is to think carefully about if you could celebrate within your own household, without travel or meeting others.
You should also think about how you can use technology to reach out to people you miss, and whether you can meet outside for a Christmas walk, rather than gather indoors for a meal or around the tree.
However, we know that for some, contact with friends and family will be crucial as isolation and loneliness can hit people especially hard over the Christmas period.
That is why we have worked together with the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive on a joint approach to allow people to meet with friends and family in a cautious and limited way.
We will allow “bubbles” of three households to meet from December 23 to 27 in a home, an outdoor place or a place of worship. You don’t have to stay together for all five days – in fact, you might only meet for one or two days, but importantly once you’ve formed a bubble, you shouldn’t meet with others outside of that bubble.
And in order to allow for travelling to a designated house in order to do this, the travel restrictions will be relaxed for this time and it will be possible to cross between protection levels to join your bubble.
‘Think about whether you need to form a bubble’
Those are the only rules that will change. For everything else the levels system will remain in place and you should follow the rules related to your area. And sadly, there cannot be any further relaxation of measures for Hogmanay. It is only possible to do this once – and even then, it has risks.
That is something I want to stress. Any relaxation of the restrictions does carry an additional risk – a risk to your friends and to your families.
And so before you reach out to friends and family, think carefully about whether you need to form a “bubble”.
Just because you can mix with others indoors over this time, that doesn’t mean you have to. If you choose to stick with the rules as they are, then you will be continuing the hard work to beat this virus and prevent its spread to the elderly and the vulnerable.
We have all sacrificed so much since the early days of 2020 in order to keep our friends and families safe. So much so, that to throw away the progress we have made on keeping Covid-19 from our doors – just when a way out of this crisis appears to be in sight – would be irresponsible and potentially bring with it tragic consequences.
This year, the best gift you could give is sticking with the rules and protecting your loved ones.