Scots are being advised to have no more than eight adults in any Christmas “bubble” they form with family and friends.
The Scottish Government has published new guidance on what will be allowed for a limited, five-day period over the festive break.
While three households can form a “bubble”, allowing them to meet indoors, outdoors or in a place of worship, those living in shared flats are being urged not to split up from their current housemates.
The guidance also states children under the age of 12 will not be counted towards the overall number of people in any such arrangement and that only one extended household is to be permitted in each group.
It was published as Professor Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director, told Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee that the country is “just beginning to turn a corner” in the fight against coronavirus.
He said the R number – the average number of people each person with the virus goes on to infect – is thought to have been below one “for a week, maybe”.
Prof Leitch said: “It is slow, but it is coming. But our numbers are still way too high, and compared to the summer hugely too high.”
He went on to warn the committee that any relaxation of the current rules “will increase the prevalence of the virus”.
But ministers in Scotland and the other parts of the UK have agreed a temporary easing of restrictions for Christmas, covering the period December 23 to 27.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has struck a cautious tone in recent days, saying remaining at home should be the “default” position.
Meanwhile Constitution Secretary Mike Russell told the committee that anyone joining a “bubble” could be taking a “significant risk” and should take care not to “do anything to extend that risk if you can possibly avoid it”.
He stressed: “We are asking people to be very, very cautious, recognising the special nature of the time, but being very cautious.
“This is a period of some leeway to allow people to visit friends and family, particularly in extremis where people have not seen each other for a long period of time.
“It is not a licence to change the way in which we live our lives for those five days, that is really, really important that is understood.
“There are strong grounds for allowing this period, but it should not be thought of in any other way than that slight lessening to allow something to happen.
“It is not a change of regulations, it is not saying ‘phew, that is over’.”
Prof Leitch advised Scots to “turn down social interaction” prior to joining a “Christmas bubble”, to help make the arrangement as safe as possible.
“It’s not quite self-isolation but try to limit your interaction with other people prior to joining that bubble, and get everybody else to do the same,” he said.
The Scottish Government guidance states that people living in a shared home who wish to form a bubble elsewhere for Christmas should self-isolate from their current household beforehand.
It says: “People (other than students) who live in a shared flat or house are considered a household and our strong advice is that households should not split up and enter separate bubbles over the festive period.
“If you do join different bubbles you should isolate from your flatmates both before and after joining your bubble for around a week.”
The guidance also urges caution for those identified as being the most vulnerable to Covid-19.
People who were previously shielding due to an underlying medical condition should “take time to think about what being a bubble means for you”, the advice states.
It adds: “Being part of a bubble would involve greater risks for you as you would be increasing the number of people you have contact with.
“It is important that you do not feel pressured to celebrate the festive season in an environment that makes you anxious.”
The entire bubble will be forced to self-isolate where they are, whether that be at someone else’s home or their own, if one of their number shows coronavirus symptoms or tests positive for the virus.
A positive test, along with travel disruption, are the only two reasons given to allow a person not to return to their normal household by December 27.
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