Covid-19: UK plans to ease restrictions for ‘small number of days’ over Christmas

England to move into tougher tiered regional coronavirus restrictions than previously

A pedestrian passes a Covid-19 information sign reading “Stop the spread” as they walk in Covent Garden in central London. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

A pedestrian passes a Covid-19 information sign reading “Stop the spread” as they walk in Covent Garden in central London. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

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England will end a national Covid-19 lockdown on December 2nd and move into tougher tiered regional restrictions than before, with more areas facing severe constraints to prevent the virus from reigniting, prime minister Boris Johnson’s office said.

Mr Johnson ordered England in to a month-long lockdown in early November after infection cases and deaths started to rise again, angering businesses and some of his own political party over the economic consequences. A second wave of infections has started to flatten, official data shows, but scientific advisers are expected to warn on Monday that previous regional restrictions did not go far enough and harder measures are needed to prevent another national lockdown.

“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,” a spokeswoman said. “That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made, and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS [National Health Service].”

Britain has suffered the worst death toll in Europe amid the pandemic and the deepest economic contraction of any G7 nation, prompting sharp criticism of Mr Johnson’s handling of the disease. Prior to the latest lockdown, England had been placed into three tiers, with the toughest measures imposed in northern England, where movement was limited and pubs were forced to close unless they sold substantial meals.

Winter plan

Mr Johnson’s office said the prime minister would set out a new Covid winter plan on Monday, with more areas placed into the higher restrictions under the revamped tiered system.

Ministers will announce which areas will be placed into which tier on Thursday, with legislators able to vote on the system before it comes into force. The tiers will be reviewed. The move is likely to be met with fierce resistance from some legislators who argue that the country cannot afford to close shops and hospitality again after unemployment numbers and debt jumped, and economic output plunged 20 per cent in the second quarter.

The winter plan will also include details on interactions at Christmas.

The Westminster government said on Sunday that a relaxation of coronavirus restrictions “for a small number of days” over Christmas is planned to allow a limited level of mixing between households across the UK.

However, Mr Johnson will be unable to say how many households will be allowed to mix over Christmas and for how many days restrictions will be relaxed for until a later date, the PA news agency understands.

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove met with leaders of the devolved administrations over the weekend when they “endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”.

But the public will be “advised to remain cautious” and told that “wherever possible people should avoid travelling and minimise social contact”, a statement from his department said.

The cabinet office said talks are continuing to finalise an agreement.

Full details of the festive relaxation are not expected until after the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agree the plans with their own cabinets.

The British government has argued that the virus will overwhelm hospitals and cripple the economy if it is left unchecked. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also under varying levels of restrictions, set by their governments.– Reuters/PA