Can you sing carols in church, when will trains be running and can you be in more than one festive bubble? Vital Q&A to help you navigate Christmas
As Britons plan their festive travel and look forward to spending time with their families after months apart, it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas for many.
But questions remain over how busy trains will be and whether the roads will be jammed over the period when three households can bubble next month.
People will be travelling across the country to be with their loved ones from December 23 to 27, with many having to decide which side of the family to visit.
And the roads and rails are therefore likely to be congested amid concerns of overcrowding and huge queues if everyone hits the network at the same time.
The Department for Transport has appointed a Christmas travel tsar who will scrutinise whether rail, air and road networks are prepared for the surge in travel.
Meanwhile new guidance on Santa’s Grottos, carol singing and nativity plays has also revealed what to expect in the run up to Christmas in the coming weeks.
Here, MailOnline looks at the key questions from Christmas carols to train tickets, and from roadworks to Christmas bubbles:
CHRISTMAS SERVICES, CAROLS AND GROTTOS
Will carol singers be allowed this year?
Yes. Door-to-door carol singing can happen, but only in groups of six and while keeping at least two metres away from ‘the threshold of any dwellings’.
Participants are also expected to follow social distancing by staying at least two metres apart from anyone who is not from the same household.
Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London, said the news that people can come together to sing outdoors over the festive season ‘will bring comfort and joy to many’.
This type of carol singing will not be allowed – participants must stand at least two metres from each other in groups of up to six. They must also stand at least two metres away from homes
Can you sing carols in church?
No, unless you are in a choir. Government guidance, published on Sunday to cover the Christmas period, allows indoor singing when England’s national lockdown ends on Wednesday, but only by choirs and with no audience participation.
Indoor singing by professional and amateur choirs can take place according to the particular area’s tier, but audiences or congregations are not to join in ‘any activity that can create aerosols, including singing, shouting and chanting’.
Those activities are known to increase the risk of virus transmission. For indoor choirs, the maximum number of people present ‘should take into account the area of the space and the requirement to maintain two-metre social distancing at all times’.
Will normal church services resume again?
Yes. Church services can take place again in all tiers from Wednesday. During the latest lockdown, places of worship have only been allowed to host private prayer.
Can school nativity plans happen?
Yes, with restrictions. School nativity plays will be allowed to go ahead ‘within existing school bubbles’ and avoiding any mixing across groups.
Audiences will only be allowed to attend in Tier 1 and 2 areas – subject to ‘appropriate safeguards’. In Tier 3, schools are advised to use live-streaming or record the shows.
Santa Claus speaks to two-year-old Leo via live video stream in a UK virtual grotto experience
Can you take your child to a Santa’s grotto?
Yes. Santa’s grottos can open in all tiers – so long as they are in venues which are allowed to open and put in place Covid secure measures such as social distancing.
For people hoping to get in the festive mood by attending a Christmas market, the Government advises they must check the rules according to their tier.
It states: ‘The rules might be different for indoor shops and open air shops, such as Christmas markets or Christmas tree markets.’
Can I book tickets in advance?
Yes. Rail passengers are being urged to book ahead now amid fears of overcrowding with closures of some key stations and lines adding to the potential chaos.
When will trains be busiest?
The crunch times could be around December 23 and 27, which are the start and end dates of the period when three households can bubble together for Christmas.
More than two million people normally travel by train in the week between December 25 and the first week of January, putting a significant strain on the system.
Are tickets getting booked up?
Yes. For example, the cheapest LNER single on the morning of December 23 from London King’s Cross to Edinburgh is £74, but some trains are already sold out.
Those travelling from London Euston to Manchester on Avanti West Coast that morning can get a single for £30 if before 7am, but the price rises to £85 by 9.30am.
Some trains from Euston to Birmingham are already sold out, but more tickets will soon become available – and the Chiltern route from Marylebone is as little as £6.40.
On the same morning travelling from London Paddington to Cardiff the cheapest Great Western Railway single is £35.40, with decent availability on most trains.
Do you have to book an advance ticket?
Yes, but only on some lines. LNER, which runs from London King’s Cross to Leeds, Edinburgh and Newcastle, will only allow people to travel with a seat reservation.
Passengers wait for a train at London Waterloo railway station on Christmas Eve in 2013
Could tickets drop in price?
Yes. Operators have said more advance tickets will soon be available, and the Rail Delivery Group has advised people to keep checking and sign up for notifications.
Avanti West Coast, which runs trains from London Euston to Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester, is releasing more advance fares from tomorrow (December 1).
Are advance tickets being released later than normal?
Yes. Cheaper advance tickets are normally available 12 weeks in advance, but operators say they have been delayed due to short-notice timetable changes.
Are there ways to make your fare cheaper?
Yes. Consider whether you are eligible for a railcard such as a 16-25, 26-30, Two Together, Senior, Disabled, Family and Friends, Network or Veterans for a third off.
Also look at whether it is cheaper to ‘split’ tickets on the route – that is to split your journey route into different sections and buy individual tickets for the same journey.
This is a legal method as long as the train calls at each of the stations on your tickets. For example, if travelling from London to Newcastle and the train stops at York, you could split the fare by buying a single from London to York, and York to Newcastle.
You could also consider whether it is cheaper to travel at unusual times such as before the morning rush hour or late at night, when fares tend to be much cheaper.
Are peak fares being suspended?
Yes, on some routes. Avanti is suspending peak fares between December 18 and 31, meaning a London to Manchester flexible peak fare will be £64.40 instead of £180.
Labour and Transport Focus are calling for a temporary suspension of peak fares across all lines in the UK as part of a wider package to help people travel safely.
Will there be Christmas engineering works too?
Yes. Most of the network has now been cleared of engineering works, but there will still be some closures taking place from December 23 to January 4.
King’s Cross will be shut for six days from Christmas Day, while there will also be a reduced service between Clapham Junction and Waterloo from Boxing Day.
LNER, which uses King’s Cross station for the East Coast Main Line, has warned that alternative routes will be ‘very busy and should also be avoided’.
LNER has issued the above timetable for when people cannot travel to and from King’s Cross
Will trains run on Christmas Day?
No. There will be no train services running on Christmas Day, as is standard each year. However there will be some coach services running (see below).
Will trains run on Boxing Day?
Mostly no, with some exceptions. Only limited services will operate. There will be no services at London King’s Cross, Euston, Liverpool Street, Waterloo or St Pancras.
There will be no c2c, LNER, London Northwestern, South Western, East Midlands, Great Western, West Midlands, CrossCounty, TransPennine Express or Thameslink.
However, there will be Stansted Express services but only from Tottenham Hale every half-hour. The Heathrow Express will also run to and from London Paddington.
Are the Tubes running over Christmas?
Yes, but not on Christmas Day. The London Underground will operate a Saturday service on Christmas Eve, which will be reduced at 8pm and finish at Sunday times.
On Boxing Day, reduced services start from 7am, but there will be no service on sections of the Piccadilly and District lines and much of the London Overground.
Are trains running over the New Year’s period?
Yes. New Year’s Eve trains will be operating on most lines, but the last train may be earlier than usual. Trains on New Year’s Day may start running slightly later too.
Are coach operators increasing their services?
Yes. Coaches will have a role to play in moving people around the country because trains are likely to struggle with demand.
National Express said it will increase its services after seeing a ‘significant’ increase in website traffic after the Government announced its Christmas bubble rules.
But it added that this is still a reduced service with this year’s timetable for Christmas Day covering only around half of the locations compared with last year.
Megabus said it had seen a rise in bookings in recent days with demand expected to grow more, with extra seats put on to help the university exodus from this Thursday.
Will coaches run on Christmas Day?
Yes. Both National Express and Megabus will have services on Christmas Day.
Are tickets cheaper than the train?
Yes, in many cases. The cheapest National Express ticket from London to Newcastle on the morning of December 23 is £38.80. The cheapest train ticket on LNER is £71.
From London to Cardiff it is £28 on the coach, or £35.40 on the train. However London to Birmingham is £22 on the coach, but just £6.40 on the train with Chiltern.
Have ticket restrictions been relaxed?
Yes. National Express have changed terms and conditions on restricted tickets so customers can now get one free change. They can get a refund on a standard ticket.
The National Express route map shows where the operator runs coach services across Britain
Will the roads be busy?
Yes. The roads are expected to be busy over the Christmas period as many people shun public transport over fears of catching Covid-19 on overcrowded trains.
To enable to rush to the roads, there are likely to be fewer roadworks than normal – with 500 miles of them cleared on motorways and A-roads to ease congestion.
The RAC has said its breakdown team expects the roads to be busy during the five-day period of December 23 to 27, but it is still unsure quite how busy they will be.
Will roadworks be lifted for longer than the five-day period?
Yes. Highways England has said the ‘current plan’ is to remove ‘non-essential’ roadworks from December 20 this year to January 4 next year.
Are there doubts over how congested it will be?
Yes. The AA has said it is not ‘overly concerned’ about traffic congestion, with a poll finding two-fifths of drivers had already cancelled festive travel plans.
Does the Congestion Charge operate on Christmas Day?
No, the Central London Congestion Charge and Ultra Low Emission Zone do not operate on Christmas Day only. But they are back in operation from Boxing Day.
Are UK flights running over Christmas?
Yes. EasyJet has already seen a 200 per cent surge in flight and holiday searches in the days after the Government’s announcement on Christmas bubbles last week.
The most popular routes included London and Bristol to Belfast, and London to Edinburgh, with the carrier saying it has increased seats on some of its UK routes.
EasyJet will still be running only a fifth of its normal flight schedule over this winter, with other airlines such as Ryanair and British Airways also reducing timetables.
BA has also seen in increasing in people searching for flights and holidays on its website and has insisted it will put on larger aircraft where possible if needed.
Irish airline Aer Lingus will be operating a ‘much-reduced schedule’ due to a ‘lack of demand’ for air travel, but it has put on extra capacity on the Dublin-Heathrow route.
Are ticket prices expensive?
Yes. The cheapest London to Belfast single on the morning of December 23 is £164 via Stansted with easyJet. The cheapest London-Dublin single is £79 with Ryanair.
The cheapest London to Edinburgh single on the morning of December 23 is £78 from Luton via easyJet – which is roughly the same price as the LNER train that day.
CHRISTMAS BUBBLE RULES
Plans revealed last week to allow people to form a temporary bubble over the festive season were welcome news to families across the country.
But how much do we know about what is being proposed? Here, are some key questions based on information released by the Cabinet Office for England:
What is a Christmas bubble and when can I join one?
People will be allowed to form an exclusive Christmas bubble made up of people from no more than three households between December 23 and 27.
This rule applies across the whole of the UK.
Christmas bubbles can only meet in private homes and gardens, places of worship and public outdoor spaces.
Can I be in more than one Christmas bubble?
No. Christmas bubbles will be fixed for the period they are permitted.
You are also not allowed to change your Christmas bubble once it is formed.
Is there a limit to how many people can be in a Christmas bubble?
The Cabinet Office guidance only stipulates that the bubble should not include people from more than three households.
However, it highlights that the more people someone sees, the more likely they are to catch or spread Covid-19, and asks the public to be mindful of risks before agreeing to form a bubble.
The Scottish Government said people should keep the numbers within a bubble as low as possible and minimise the length of contact between different households in the bubble.
Will we have to social distance within Christmas bubbles?
Social distancing will not be necessary in bubbles, but people will be advised to exercise restraint and judgment if they plan to mix with vulnerable friends or family.
It means friends and family will have the chance to hug for the first time in months.
What happens if I’m self-isolating?
If you have Covid symptoms or are required to self-isolate then you must not join a Christmas bubble.
If someone in a Christmas bubble tests positive for coronavirus or develops symptoms between December 23 and 27, or up to 48 hours after the bubble last met, then all bubble members must self-isolate.
Can I be in a different Christmas bubble from people I normally live with?
Cabinet Office guidance says you can choose to form a different Christmas bubble from the people you live with normally.
To prevent virus transmission within your normal household and between bubbles, people should try to stay with another member of their Christmas bubble between December 23 and 27 where possible.
Extra precautions such as cleaning surfaces and door handles and letting in fresh air after someone has visited your household are also advised.
However, the Scottish Government has said that ‘different people in a household should not pick their own bubble’.
Can I still meet people outside of my Christmas bubble?
You will be able to meet people not in your Christmas bubble outside your home according to the rules in the tier you are staying in.
The tier system of restrictions applies to England, with rules in other parts of the UK varying.
Can I stay overnight with my Christmas bubble?
Yes. If someone is in your Christmas bubble, you can visit each other’s homes and stay overnight, including in private rented accommodation.
Can I travel through different areas and across borders to join a Christmas bubble?
Yes. You are allowed to travel between England’s tiers and the four nations of the UK to meet your Christmas bubble.
When am I allowed to travel to and from my Christmas bubble?
You should only travel to meet your bubble and return home between December 23 and 27.
For those heading to or from Northern Ireland, they may travel on December 22 and 28 December, but should only meet their Christmas bubble between December 23 and 27.
Travel outside these periods is only allowed in exceptional circumstances, for example if your are required to self-isolate.
People are advised to avoid unnecessary stops on their journey and not to share a car with people not in their household.
If crossing borders, travellers should read the local coronavirus guidance as different rules may apply.
Does my support bubble count as one household still?
According to the Cabinet Office, existing support bubbles will count as one household contributing to the three household Christmas bubble limit.
A support bubble in England is defined as a support network between a single adult household, or a one adult household with one or more people aged under 18 on June 12, and one other household of any size.
Rules on household bubbles are different in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with full Christmas guidance still pending from those nations.
Can childcare bubbles continue?
In England, a childcare bubble is where one household links with one other household to provide informal childcare to children aged 13 or under.
Between December 23 and 27 you can continue to use a childcare bubble but ‘only if reasonably necessary’ and ‘where there are no reasonable alternatives’, Cabinet Office guidance states.
If meeting socially during this period, the two households should form a Christmas bubble, with one further household permitted to join the grouping.
Again, guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may differ.
What happens to children whose parents are separated?
Children who are aged under 18 can be part of both their parents’ Christmas bubbles if the adults do not live together and separate groupings are formed.
Nobody else is allowed to be in two bubbles.
Can care home residents join Christmas bubbles?
In England, visits outside of care homes should only be considered for residents ‘of working age’.
A care home resident that is allowed to leave, subject to a home’s agreement and individual risk assessments, may form a bubble with one other household only and should not form a three-household Christmas bubble at any point.
If a care home resident does join a household for Christmas they should maintain social distance and take steps to minimise risks.
Can students returning from university join Christmas bubbles?
Students heading home for the holidays will be considered part of the household they return to.
Can I form a Christmas bubble if I am clinically extremely vulnerable?
Yes, but people are warned this involves greater risks.
If someone decides to join a bubble they should take extra precautions, while others within the group should be extra vigilant in the days before getting together.
Can my bubble have Christmas dinner together at the pub?
No. Under the rules Christmas bubbles cannot meet up at indoor settings such as pubs, hotels, retail businesses, theatres or restaurants.
In England, rules on who you can and cannot meet will still depend on which tier of restrictions a venue is in.
Should I follow the rules of the tier I travel to or the tier I’ve come from when forming my Christmas bubble?
In England, if travelling to join your bubble you should follow the tier rules of your destination.
In Scotland, you must stay with your bubble where they are hosting you and you should follow the travel advice for the level you are in.
For example, people being hosted in a level 3 area cannot go on an outing to a level 2 area.
Can I stay in a hotel during Christmas?
In England, you can stay in a hotel during the Christmas period, including in a tier three area, but only on your own or with members of your household.
How will the Christmas rules be enforced?
No specific details have been released over how authorities might enforce the newly announced rules during the festive period.
Will we face tougher restrictions in January to make up for this?
We do not yet know. It has been speculated that a further circuit-breaker might be needed in January or February if transmission rates rise during Christmas.
The Prime Minister has urged families to still be ‘jolly careful’, warning against ‘a big blowout Christmas’ that could risk another lockdown in January.
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