Boris Johnson hopes to ramp up his latest campaign against the coronavirus with more joy, as ministers work on plans to allow families to meet in a celebratory bubble.
It unveils a new blueprint to fight the pandemic that it hopes will not only save lives during the winter season but also prevent a House of Commons revolt by rebel Conservative MPs.
The prime minister publishes his COVID winter plan, which will include strict new restrictions in England in December but a period of up to five days of rest for Christmas.
But despite the restrictions, due to the substitution of England’s national lockdown when it expires on December 2, Mr Johnson will announce:
- Non-essential retail stores will be allowed to open, in a boost to the Christmas shoppers – and the main streets
- Gyms will be allowed to open as well, so that the nation doesn’t pile on pounds in the run-up to Christmas
- The 10 p.m. curfew will be lifted for bars and restaurants, which critics claim has done more harm than good
- A mass testing program will be launched in the Tier 3 areas, using the Army, like the recent pilot program in Liverpool
In a House of Commons statement, Johnson is not expected to confirm how many families will be able to gather together for Christmas, or for how long the restrictions will last. This is a chart for the next day.
But ministers are working on plans for three families and a five-day break, from Christmas Eve until December 28, subject to approval by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments.
In regions facing the most severe restrictions, a comprehensive coronavirus testing program will be launched, at Level 3, using the Liverpool model, which the government claims has been successful.
When announcing the testing program, the prime minister is expected to tell the deputies: “Having people follow the rules makes a difference.
“The virus does not spread as quickly as it would if we don’t wash our hands, keep a social distance, wear masks and so on.
In England, where nationwide measures came into effect at the beginning of this month, the increase in new cases is fading.
“But we’re not out of the woods yet. The virus is still present in communities all over the country, and it’s still much more contagious and far more deadly than seasonal flu.
But as the expansion of testing and vaccines nears spreading, a regional tiered system will help restore control of the virus and keep it there.
Plans to break Christmas from the restrictions were announced after weekend talks with the first ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – Nicola Sturgeon, Mark Drakford and Arlene Foster.
The government is proposing “some additional household bubbles that are limited for a few days”. But the public is urged to exercise caution and avoid traveling wherever possible.
But just hours after the Cabinet Office announced the holidays, the Scottish government claimed: “No agreement has been reached and discussions are continuing.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock echoed this, telling Sky News that the final decision “has not been taken.”
Speaking to Kay Burley, he said, “We will confirm this when we have this agreement across the four countries.”
Hancock added: “We have agreed in principle that there must be a set of rules that apply in all areas to be balanced, which allows for greater freedom, but is still safe.”
The disagreement may be over the break dates. Last week, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that for some families in Scotland Hogmanay would be more important than Christmas.
“For many, entering the new year is very important,” she said.
“For some families in Scotland, this might be the time when they get together, even more than Christmas, so we have to take that into account in our planning and we need to think over the entire holiday period.”
“We understand that people want to come together, but this is still a dangerous, horrific and deadly virus, so please be careful,” Labor’s shadow health minister Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News.
He added that the prime minister needed to “be honest with the British people” about the tough new restrictions.
“If the territories continue with these local closings, we hope there will be an adequate package of support for affected small businesses,” said Mr. Ashworth.
In the House of Commons, Johnson will also face heavy criticism from a growing number of Conservative MPs for his plans to reimpose the three-tiered restrictions in England that were in effect from October 14 through November 5.
Although the prime minister will reaffirm his pledge to end the national lockdown in England, many Conservative MPs are outraged by the government’s plans to tighten restrictions and put more areas in Levels 2 and 3.
The Covid Recovery Group of Conservative MPs, led by former ministers Mark Harper and Steve Baker, has written to the prime minister threatening to vote against the tiered system when it is voted on in the House of Commons.
“We are determined to do our duty and help the government come up with the right solutions,” Baker told Kay Burley.
He added: “Every measure must be shown to actually reduce COVID transmission and it cannot be demonstrated that some measures do so, not in a physical way. Things like closing non-essential retail stores that are safe from COVID.
“We also want to see a cost-benefit analysis of each action, so we can see that these actions will save more lives than harm.”
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