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The Prime Minister will detail his winter strategy on Monday afternoon, with a proposal to deploy a major testing scheme and reopen all non-essential stores as lockdown eases.
It is understood that he will tell MPs that non-essential shops can open in all three tiers after the current restrictions expire on December 2, in a boost for retailers during the festive period.
However, pubs and restaurants will face the harshest of the new measures with businesses in the new Tier 3 only allowed to offer takeaways, while those in Tier 2 must serve food with any drinks, The Daily Telegraph reported.
The paper added cinemas will be allowed to reopen in England for places in Tier 1 and 2, and midnight mass and Christingle services will be permitted in all three tiers.
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Boris Johnson will set out the basis of plans to allow a small number of households across the UK to mix over a limited number of days around Christmas, but is not expected to be in a position to give the specifics.
Appearing virtually in the Commons from his test and trace-ordered quarantine, Mr Johnson is to announce major rapid testing programmes for all areas forced into the highest tier of restrictions.
He will also set out a trial of the repeat testing of close contacts of individuals who test positive for Covid-19 to prevent them from having to isolate, having got his proposals signed off by his Cabinet on Sunday.
The Prime Minister is expected to tell MPs that “we are not out of the woods yet” but that “with expansion in testing and vaccines edging closer to deployment, the regional tiered system will help get the virus back under control and keep it there”.
He will hope that the testing plans will be enough to show he has a fresh approach to dozens of Conservative MPs in the Covid recovery group (CRG) which is threatening to oppose any new restrictions in a Commons vote unless they get detailed evidence to prove they will save more lives than they cost.
More areas are expected to enter the higher end of the tiered-system next month, which will be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the four-week lockdown.
Ministers will on Thursday set out what tier each area will enter, while one easing expected is to the 10pm curfew rule for pubs and restaurants.
Apparently last orders must be called at 10pm, which will give people an extra hour to finish their food and drinks, with opening hours to be extended until 11pm.
Over the weekend, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove met with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to endorse “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.
Mr Gove, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, Wales’s Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland’s Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill “reiterated the importance of allowing families and friends to meet in a careful and limited way” in a meeting on Saturday.
The Cabinet Office said talks are continuing to finalise the agreement, including over travel arrangements, but that it is hoped the conclusion will come “this week”, while the Scottish Government said “no agreement has been reached”.
Downing Street will hope an easing at Christmas, potential vaccines on the horizon and new scientific evidence will lessen the scale of a rebellion, with the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) expected to publish papers on Monday saying the previous tiers were not strong enough.
But the CRG, led by former Brexit minister Steve Baker and ex-chief whip Mark Harper, warned against any post-Christmas increase in restrictions to counteract the relaxation in a letter to the Prime Minister said to be signed by 70 Tories.
Conservative former minister Nus Ghani, who joined the CRG having voted for the current lockdown, added in an article for the Telegraph that she will not be able to support the restrictions unless the Government details a “fresh strategy”.
When the Commons voted on the current lockdown earlier this month, 32 Conservatives rebelled to oppose the measures and 17 more, including former prime minister Theresa May, abstained.
But Labour has so far been supportive of the need for restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19 and a full-scale Commons defeat on the plan is unlikely.
The plans emerged as the Government said a further 739 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Coivd-19 as of the weekend, bringing the UK total to 55,024.
England was split into three in October in the original tiered strategy, with areas in the first tier – medium alert – subject to the same national measures which were in force at the time across the country including a 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants and a ban on most gatherings of more than six people.
Under the second tier – high alert – household mixing was banned indoors while the Rule of Six continued to apply outdoors.
Tier 3 – very high alert – banned social mixing both indoors and in private gardens, while pubs and bars were told to close unless they could operate as a restaurant.
More areas are expected to enter the higher end of the system, and restrictions in each of the areas are expected to be altered.
Under the old system, local leaders were to help determine whether venues such as gyms or casinos should be closed in very high alert level areas, and this may change in the new system.
Ministers will announce on Thursday which tier each area will enter.
It is understood pubs and restaurants will be allowed to stay open later than the 10pm curfew which previously existed.
The plans will mean that, while last orders must be called at 10pm, people will get an extra hour to finish their food and drinks, with opening hours to be extended until 11pm.
There are reports suggesting that pubs will have to serve a “substantial meal” with any drinks and people must stay within their household groups.
The Government has emphasised that it wants to see England exit its four-week lockdown on December 2.
This is its legal endpoint, with any extension requiring a vote in Parliament.
But what comes next will depend on a review of Covid-19 case data to assess if the lockdown has had an effect.
Not entirely – Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be wary of a rebellion from backbench Tory MPs who are opposed to new restrictions.
During a vote on the current four-week system earlier this month, 32 Conservatives rebelled to oppose the measures and 17 more, including former prime minister Theresa May, abstained.
A “Covid recovery group” led by former chief whip Mark Harper and ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker has been formed to resist new measures, with suggestions 50 Tories have enlisted.
The Government is optimistic that restrictions can be gradually reduced in the run-up to spring, providing vaccines are approved by regulators, allowing a plan for the rollout to begin next month before a wider programme in the new year.
But with no vaccines having been approved it is still not clear exactly when the rollout will be able to begin.
Several households – potentially three – could be allowed to create a bubble temporarily between December 22 and 28, with the plans covering all four nations of the UK, according to the Daily Telegraph.
Restrictions on church services are also due to be lifted, allowing Christmas Day services to be held, the paper said.
But while plans have not yet been set out, ministers have made clear that the festive season will be different from normal.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove held discussions on Saturday with Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford, and the First and Deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, on shared arrangements for the festive period.
The ministers “endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”, the department said.
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