Covid-19: Christmas get-together plan backed by UK nations

Covid-19: Christmas get-together plan backed by UK nations

The UK’s four nations have backed plans to allow households to meet “for a small number of days” over Christmas.

It comes as Boris Johnson is due to announce on Monday what Covid restrictions may be in place over the festive period.

The PM will also outline plans for a tougher three-tiered system for England – to be introduced at the end of the current lockdown on 2 December.

The 10pm curfew could be eased under the new system.

The Cabinet Office said ministers from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have endorsed a “shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”.

But, following talks on Saturday, they have emphasised that the public will be advised to “remain cautious”, and that “wherever possible people should avoid travelling and minimise social contact”.

Discussions are ongoing – including about travel arrangements – but it is hoped a deal can be reached this week.

In respect of Northern Ireland, ministers have also “recognised that people will want to see family and friends across the island of Ireland, and this is the subject of discussions with the Irish government”.

Under the plans for restrictions in England, more areas are set to be placed into the higher tiers to keep the virus under control, Downing Street said.

And some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard lockdown progress.

Some local measures will be the same as those in the previous three-tier system, which was in place in England until the current lockdown began.

Pre-lockdown, there were three tiers of restrictions – medium, high, and very high:

However, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is expected to publish research on Monday saying the previous restrictions were not strong enough.

The government will identify the tiers that each area will be placed into on Thursday.

But 70 Tory MPs have said they will not back the proposals without evidence.

In a letter to the prime minister, the recently-formed Covid Recovery Group (CRG) said it cannot support a tiered approach unless it sees evidence measures “will save more lives than they cost”.

MPs are expected to vote on the new tier system in the days before it comes into force.

Government ministers and advisers have been hinting about new tougher tiers over the past week.

Before lockdown there was some evidence that tiers two and three were having an impact, but not tier one.

Crucially, both the top two tiers involved banning mixing inside homes, so one option being discussed behind the scenes is introducing a ban across all the tiers until winter is over.

The exception will, of course, be Christmas.

That is a move that divides opinion. But the government sees it as a necessity, believing significant numbers of people will ignore any attempt to ban gatherings over the festive period.

It is also a recognition the public needs a break from the long hard slog of the pandemic.

Infection rates will of course rise, but that will be offset to some extent by a wider boost to wellbeing.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the BBC’s Andrew Marr the 10pm closing time for pubs and restaurants was one of the things that the government was looking to “refine”.

It is understood rules will be relaxed to give people an extra hour to finish their food and drinks after last orders at 10pm.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said this would help businesses – but would be “meaningless” unless people were allowed to socialise with friends and family, particularly over the crucial Christmas period.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported that several families could be allowed to meet between 22 and 28 December for Christmas.

Ministers have made clear the festive season will be different to normal – with some restrictions expected to remain in place.

Labour has so far supported the need for restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19, making a Commons defeat on the plan unlikely.

But shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds told the BBC her party wanted clarity from the government over how tiers would be decided and the support available for businesses.

On Sunday, the UK recorded another 18,662 new coronavirus cases and 398 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, bringing the UK total to 55,024.

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