Prime Minister sets out new coronavirus rules to take effect next week
A tiered approach to suppressing coronavirus with more restrictions is likely to be in place until March, as the Prime Minister announced national measures will end next week.
Boris Johnson, addressing the Commons, set out how the new plan launched today was designed to get the country “safely to spring”.
He said that “without sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating into a winter or New Year surge”.
But he confirmed the national measures imposed last month will end at 00.01 on December 2, with the order to stay at home to finish and shops, gyms, and hairdressers to reopen.
Mr Johnson said: "For the first time since this wretched virus took hold, we can see a route out of the pandemic. The breakthroughs in treatment, in testing and vaccines mean that the scientific cavalry is now in sight and we know in our hearts that next year we will succeed.
"By the spring, these advances should reduce the need for the restrictions we have endured in 2020 and make the whole concept of a Covid lockdown redundant."
A 56-page document released today set out the new tiered measures, which are more stringent than before, with no negotiations with local leaders of appeals for those who feel they are in the wrong tier.
Instead, decisions will be based on an analysis of cases across all age groups, and specific analysis of cases among over 60s, the rate by which cases are rising or falling, the percentage of those tested in the local population found to have coronavirus, and the current and projected pressures on the NHS.
It is expected the new approach will see more areas in the higher risk categories.
“I am sorry to say that we expect more regions will fall, at least temporarily, into higher levels than before”, the PM told MPs.
But he ruled out imposing restrictions by district rather than region or county after Conservative former minister Damian Green warned him that people will not follow the rules if they are judged to be unfair.
Mr Green told the Commons: “In the spirit of a wise constituent who told me, ‘if the Government imposes stupid rules, we’ll all stop obeying the sensible rules as well’, can I ask (Mr Johnson) that the new tiers be imposed at a local level, districts rather than counties or regions, because restrictions which people feel are unfair to their particular community will simply not be respected or obeyed – and this in itself will have a damaging effect on our long-term health.”
Mr Johnson said he “respectfully disagreed” as he praised people for following the rules and said he expects this to continue.
He added: “The disease is no respecter of borough boundaries and we have to have some regions in which to constitute the tiers that are sensible and large enough.”
Lessons learned from the first tiered approach would lead to the hospitality curfew to be extended to 11pm, with last orders at 10pm, Mr Johnson said.
And scientists told the Government that even though the previous regime did bring infection rates down, it was not by enough.
The tiers will also be uniform and without negotiations on exceptions for different places, but local areas will be able to decide whether they want to take part in offers on mass testing.
The aim is to use scientific advances such as vaccines and mass testing to enable life to return closer to normal in the Spring, but for now the new measures are expected to be in place until March.
“As soon as a vaccine is approved, we will dispense it as quickly as possible,” Mr Johnson said.
But in the meantime rapid testing would be used, and would provide a way out of higher tiers.
Mr Johnson said an “untried” system of a six-week surge of testing in Tier 3 areas would be launched. He said: “There are of course many unknowns but if it works, we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions, for example meeting up in certain places with others who also tested negative.”
He added: “Towns and regions which are engaged in community testing will have a much greater chance of easing the rules that they endure.”
It is hoped daily testing will also be able to end automatic isolation for contacts of those tested positive.
Mr Johnson also revealed plans to test up to two care home visitors per residents weekly, to allow them to spend time with loved ones.
Care workers, prison staff, those in food manufacturing, and those delivering tests will also be given weekly tests.
Spectator sport will be able to resume with capacity limits and social distancing, depending on which tier.
In the toughest tier, Tier 3, hospitality venues will again have to close and offer only takeaway and delivery services.
In Tier 2, household mixing using the rule of 6 will be allowed outdoors only, allowing groups to meet in beer gardens. But alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal. Support bubbles can be used inside.
While in Tier 1 people will be encouraged not to travel but household mixing can take place both indoors and outdoors, adhering to the rule of six.
In a change to previous restrictions, couples with a child under the age of one could form a support bubble with another household.
Which areas go into which tiers will be set out on Thursday, with a review every 14 days, and the overall regulations will expire at the end of March.
An extra £900m has been allocated for councils in the highest restrictions until the end of the current financial year, which has been made available on a per head basis to help with compliance and enforcement.
And MPs are likely to be able to vote on the measures at the beginning of next week.
Arrangements for Christmas are expected to be announced later this week.