Why Kate Middleton and Prince William’s Christmas Outing with the Kids Is Causing Controversy

Kate Middleton and Prince William’s recent festive family night out is being met with controversy after they’ve been accused of breaking the U.K. government’s “Rule of Six” amid the latest COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

The couple and their children — Prince George, 7, Princess Charlotte, 5, and Prince Louis 2 — were spotted visiting the Christmas-themed Luminate trail walk on Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham estate on Sunday alongside William’s uncle Prince Edward, Sophie, Countess of Wessex and their two children, Lady Louise, 17, and James, Viscount Severn, 13.

Luminate Sandringham, a mile-long path around the stunning woodlands and Country Park at Sandringham, is open to locals through mid-January. People can buy tickets and enjoy the trail, a fire pit for toasting marshmallows and stalls with festive food and drinks.

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In pictures obtained by the Daily Mail, the two families were seen walking together along the trail. Both groups reportedly arrived separately and had no intention of meeting up, but the outing is causing backlash as they congregated as a group of nine when the government has set a strict limit on the number of people who can mingle outside.

"The two families were given separate consecutive slots to visit the trail just before it opened to the general public," royal sources told the Daily Mail. "They arrived and departed in their own family groups. As anyone with young children will know, there were moments on the 90-minute walk where it was difficult to keep the two family groups apart, particularly at bottlenecks on the trail."

The palace press office had no official comment when reached by PEOPLE.

The Cambridges are spending the Christmas holiday at their country home of Anmer Hall in Norfolk. Norfolk has been placed into Tier 2 lockdown, which means that only six people can meet up outdoors if they are not from the same household.

“You can see friends and family you do not live with (or do not have a support bubble with) outdoors, in a group of no more than 6. This limit of 6 includes children of any age,” according to the U.K. government guidelines.

William and Kate’s Christmas plans likely changed after the strict COVID-19 restrictions were put in place for much of England due to an infectious new coronavirus strain in the U.K.

Much of the U.K. is under Tier 4 lockdown, which bans all households from mixing and overnight stays away from home. A travel ban has also been introduced, with no exit or entry from the Tier 4 regions.

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After it was announced that Queen Elizabeth had canceled the royal family's annual holiday celebration at her Sandringham estate, it was speculated that the Cambridges would ring in the holiday with Kate's family in Bucklebury, Berkshire. But Berkshire, where Mike and Carole Middleton live, and London, where Kate's sister Pippa Middleton and husband James Matthews live, is in Tier 4 lockdown.

William, Kate and the kids have spent much of the pandemic at their country home in Norfolk, and it is thought that they'll remain there throughout the holiday season.

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