Scotland’s coronavirus rules over Christmas will be the strictest of anywhere in the UK after ministers decided to put an eight-person limit on festive gatherings.
Official guidance published on Thursday states that there should be no more than eight adults in any Christmas “bubble” of family and friends, although children under 12 are not included.
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In England, Wales and Northern Ireland there is no limit on the size of such bubbles, but all four nations have agreed they should be capped at three households.
The guidance in Scotland also says that people should limit their social contact with others as much as possible both before and after the five-day relaxation of the rules.
It also makes clear that people should still keep 2m apart from their loved ones at all times, meaning no hugs on Christmas Day and socially-distanced mealtimes.
However, children under the age of 12 do not count towards the total size of bubbles and do not need to keep socially distant from other members of their group.
People meeting indoors over Christmas are also being advised to open windows as much as possible, wash their hands frequently and bring their own cutlery and crockery if possible.
The guidance also says that people living in a shared flat or house should not split up and enter separate bubbles over Christmas, with anyone who does so being advised to self-isolate for one week before and one week afterwards.
“The safest way to spend Christmas and the festive period is to stay within your own household, in your own home and your own local area,” it says.
“Whilst we are providing guidance on how people can spend Christmas with others to help prevent loneliness and isolation, our advice is that wherever possible you should keep in touch with friends and family members from other households through technology.”
It adds: “Just because we are providing advice on how to spend Christmas with other people, should you consider that necessary for your own personal circumstances, it does not mean you have to do it, and you should not feel pressured to spend Christmas in or with another household.”
Speaking about the new guidance, Constitution Secretary Michael Russell said it should not be seen as “a licence to change the way in which we live our lives for those five days”.
“It is not a change of regulations, it is not saying ‘Phew, that is over’,” he added.
The Scottish Greens said ministers were sending a “confusing message” by announcing a relaxation of the rules at the same time as telling people not to take advantage of them.
Co-convenor Patrick Harvie highlighted comments from public health expert Professor Andrew Hayward, who has predicted Christmas will cause a “third wave” of infections.