England lockdown will end on 2 December – but country will face tougher tier system, Boris Johnson to announce
The prime minister will also set out how the public can see loved ones over Christmas in a statement to Parliament on Monday, No 10 said – hinting that ministers will sign off a temporary amnesty from the most severe Covid measures.
Discussions are ongoing but the plan to end the month-long national lockdown on time will be discussed at a meeting of the cabinet on Sunday before Mr Johnson asks for MPs to vote on the proposals.
Downing Street said the country will return to the three-tier system in effect as it was before the national lockdown, but added that measures will be strengthened, with more areas being placed into the higher tiers.
Government scientists criticised the effectiveness of the tier system before the second national lockdown, insisting that the lowest tier, which permitted gatherings of six people from different households, had “little effect” on reducing the size of the epidemic.
Coinciding with Mr Johnson’s statement, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is expected to publish papers reiterating its previous advice that a tougher regional approach is required if the virus is to be kept at bay.
This suggests strict measures are likely to remain in force until at least the festive period. Ministers are in discussions with the devolved administrations over a UK-wide approach to Christmas.
On Friday, health secretary Matt Hancock insisted the government was working to allow "some joy" over the holidays, but stressed that rules on social distancing will still need to be observed, appearing to suggest that hugging relatives and friends will be off the cards.
He later told the No 10 coronavirus briefing: “Many people have family in different parts of the UK so we’re working with the government and the three devolved administrations to try to have a consistent set of rules across all four nations, so that it’s easier for people to travel and see their loved ones, but there will have to be rules in place, because we still want, obviously, to keep people safe.”
The Daily Telegraph suggested the government will allow families to meet up between 22-28 December and form a “bubble” while reports added Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is pressing for businesses to be allowed “normal days” of trade over the period.
According to the Daily Mail, the government is also planning to abandon the 10pm curfew which had been imposed on pubs and restaurants before this month’s lockdown.
However, government scientists have warned relaxing restrictions over Christmas will inevitably risk driving up infections adding there are “no magic numbers” for predicting the scale of the impact.
Last week Public Health England (PHE) suggested that for every day of loosening restrictions, five days of tighter measures would need to follow to get transmission rates back down.
A further 341 people have died from Covid-19, according to the Department of Health, bringing the total number of deaths within 28 days of a positive test to 54,626.
However, other official statistics show that 63,873 people have died with Covid-19 registered on their death certificate.
Another 19,875 people have tested positive, bringing the total to 1,493,383 since the start of the pandemic.
The daily number of new confirmed cases appears to have fallen slightly over the past week, after peaking at more than 33,000 on 12 November.
According to the government’s Covid data dashboard, the number of positive tests over the last seven days has fallen by 13.8 per cent compared with the previous week. Deaths are also down slightly, at 2,861 over the last seven days compared to 2,878 the week before.
A No 10 spokesperson said on Saturday: “Everyone’s efforts during the current national restrictions have helped bring the virus back under control, slowed its spread and eased pressures on the NHS.
“But the prime minister and his scientific advisers are clear the virus is still present – and without regional restrictions could quickly run out of control again before vaccines and mass testing have had an effect.
“That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made, and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS.”
In response, a Labour spokesperson said: “We will look closely at any proposals the government brings forward. The aim must now be to bring certainty for business and confidence for people across the country.
“Throughout this crisis Labour has been clear – we must follow the scientific evidence to reduce infections, save lives and protect the economy. There now needs to be total clarity about what we are moving to once the full national lockdown eases, with measures people can follow and proper packages of support for those businesses that are unable to fully reopen. The previous system was failing – simply returning to it without other measures in place will not work.
“This lockdown period was also the government’s opportunity to finally fix the test, trace and isolate system ahead of the winter. Boris Johnson must now lay out in detail what he has done to achieve this in recent weeks.”