Boris Johnson to outline Christmas Covid rules


Boris Johnson will on Sunday outline plans for families to see each other at Christmas alongside a tougher three-tiered regional coronavirus strategy for England, which will come into effect after the national lockdown ends on December 2. 

Cabinet ministers are expected to discuss and sign off on the Covid Winter Plan on Sunday, and Mr Johnson will announce the new restrictions to all MPs in Parliament the following day. 

The government will continue talks with leaders from the devolved nations next week in order to finalise a UK-wide approach to the festive season.

The new winter plan will outline the extent to which families will be able to spend time with their loved ones. However, ministers, including health secretary Matt Hancock on Friday, have been keen to stress that the public should not expect a normal Christmas.

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Later in the week, ministers will outline which areas will be placed into each tier, with the measures strengthened in some areas.

No end date for the tiered system has been specified and the government has said that measures will be reviewed regularly and will take into consideration the need to support local economies and businesses.

Last week, Professor Susan Hopkins, an infectious diseases adviser at Public Health England, warned that the effectiveness of the October tiering system was varied, and signalled that a tougher tiered system may be needed. 

She said: “We see very little effect from tier one — I think when we look at what tiers may be there in the future, we will have to think about strengthening them in order to get us through the winter months until the vaccine is available for everyone”.

On Monday, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies are expected to detail the scientific advice behind the measures and produce evidence indicating that the previous tiering system introduced in England in October was not effective. 

Previous documents presented to the government by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling in early November found the impact of tiers one and two was not clear. “If England returns to the same application of the tiering system in place before 5th November, then transmission will return to the same rate of increase as today,” the group said.

However, the reintroduction of a tougher tiered system may put Mr Johnson in conflict with rebels from his own party, at least 50 grouped together to form the Covid Recovery Group earlier this month, with the aim of ending the “devastating cycle of repeated restrictions”. 

Ahead of the expected vote next week, the rebel group have urged the government to publish a full cost-benefit analysis of restrictions on a regional basis, improve existing measures such as NHS Test and Trace and “end the monopoly on advice of government scientists”. 

Last month, more than 30 rebels voted against the introduction of nationwide restrictions in November, including Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 committee and former chief whip Mark Harper. 

Labour has also called for further clarity on the new rules and reassurances from the government that its Test and Trace system, which in the week to November 11 only reached 60.5 per cent of contacts, will be improved.

A spokesperson said: “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.”

A further 19,875 positive infections were recorded on Saturday alongside 341 Covid deaths within the 24 hour period, with data from Government Office for Science indicating that the number of new coronavirus infections is now between 0 and 2 per cent each day in the UK. This compares to a 1 to 3 per cent growth rate at the end of last week.

At Friday’s Downing Street press briefing, the national medical director of NHS England, Steve Powis said while the number of Covid-19 hospital inpatients in England appeared to be levelling off, he urged against complacency. Scientists would need to analyse more data in the coming weeks, he added.

A No10 spokesperson said: “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 it could quickly run out of control again before vaccines and mass testing have had an effect. 

Next week, as part of the planned spending review, chancellor Rishi Sunak is also expected to announce a £500m package for mental health in recognition of the continued impact of coronavirus on mental wellbeing.

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