United Kingdom

Grant Shapps urges people NOT to use 'busy' trains at Christmas

Grant Shapps today urged Britons not to use trains at Christmas as they will be 'too busy' - as UK ministers meet to thrash out a plan to ease coronavirus rules so family reunions can happen.

An announcement is imminent on proposals for a loosening over the festive season, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove due to chair a Cobra meeting with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But the Transport Secretary has warned that the rail network's 'limitations', with major engineering work and capacity constraints, mean people should avoid using it where possible.

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Shapps said: 'We are going to be appealing to people to look very carefully at the transport route they take and of course even making a choice about whether they travel at all.'

News on how restrictions on socialising will be relaxed for a few days - probably from December 23-27 - had been expected today, but might now come later in the week, as sources say 'details need ironing out'. 

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there could be a 'slight and careful' easing of the rules for a few days while Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething has suggested tough measures to control the virus before Christmas could allow 'more headroom for the festive season'. 

Mr Gove is set to chair a meeting with the devolved administrations later, in a bid to get the package over the line. 

It comes amid a brewing Tory revolt amid fears that the whole of England could face 'lockdown by another name' even after the blanket squeeze ends on December 2.

MPs have warned Boris Johnson that putting swathes of the country under draconian Tier Two and Three restrictions will be 'catastrophic' for businesses and spark a damaging new mutiny. 

However, senior Conservatives say the 'mood music' is that most places will be subject to the tougher levels - meaning heavy restrictions on bars and restaurants, as well as limits on households mixing.   

Grant Shapps (right) today urged Britons not to use trains at Christmas as they will be 'too busy' - as Boris Johnson (pictured left on screen at a Downing Street press conference last night) tries to thrash out a plan to ease coronavirus rules so family reunions can happen

Mr Shapp warned that the rail network's 'limitations', with major engineering work and capacity constraints, mean people should avoid using it where possible. Pictured, Waterloo yesterday

Mr Johnson is trying to secure a Christmas deal with Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford so people can travel anywhere in the UK

An announcement is imminent on UK-wide proposals for a loosening over the festive season, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove due to chair a Cobra meeting with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Mr Johnson yesterday confirmed that the blanket lockdown in England will end as scheduled next Wednesday, but cautioned that coronavirus curbs need to stay in place until Easter despite more good news on vaccines.

Taking a press conference from self-isolation in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: 'Tis the season to be jolly, but it is also the season to be jolly careful, especially with elderly relatives.' 

He added: 'This is not the moment to let the virus rip for the sake of Christmas parties'. 

Mr Shapps also raised questions about how people will be able to travel to see their families, even if the restrictions are loosened. 

He told BBC Breakfast: 'We have got to understand there are limitations to the (rail) network caused by, for example, things like the need on some trains to pre-book tickets at this time, in order to prevent overcrowding...

'It is the reality of the situation we're in; we will try to do everything we can with the network to make it as good as possible, but I think it is worth people being aware that busy times of travel is a problem.'

He added that he is in 'close contact' with transport leaders of the devolved governments to make Christmas travel plans, which he expects will be finalised 'later this week'.

Engineering work will be carried out by Network Rail from December 23 to January 4.

Sir Desmond also intervened to compare Mr Johnson to Oliver Cromwell and his puritanical government. 

In June 1647, Christmas was abolished by a Parliament opposed to excess, and soldiers were sent to break up church services and festivals. Decorations such as holly and ivy were banned and singing carols was outlawed. 

Sir Desmond said: 'The last ruler that told us how we may or may not celebrate Christmas was Oliver Cromwell. It didn't end well, did it?' 

On the day the UK was told it faced at least four more months of lockdown, Oxford University confirmed its cheap, easy to store and simple to deliver jab had proved 'highly effective' in preventing illness. 

It could be approved by regulators in as little as a fortnight and start to be administered next month. Britain has ordered 100million doses, with almost 20million due by Christmas. 

Mr Johnson praised the breakthrough, saying all vulnerable Britons could be vaccinated by Easter, allowing a gradual return to normality through spring. But he also warned against 'over-optimism', saying there were 'hard months ahead' until stringent restrictions could be eased.

Setting out plans for a tougher tier system to replace the lockdown that ends on December 2, he said onerous rules would have to remain in place until at least March 31.

Business leaders said the new system was 'purgatory' for firms already reeling from two national shutdowns.

Despite opposition from Sadiq Khan and Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, London is likely to be in Tier Three, the highest level, following a rise in cases. 

Whitehall sources suggested only very few, mostly rural, areas would be in Tier One – the only level where indoor socialising with other households is allowed.

Details will be announced on Thursday. The continued sweeping restrictions will face significant opposition from many in business, especially hospitality.

Ministers are already braced for Rishi Sunak to unveil shocking figures tomorrow on the impact of the pandemic. A Treasury source said the forecasts in the Chancellor's comprehensive spending review would be 'really, really bad'.

Leaders in the northwest were last night making the case that the infection rate there was much lower than in London and the southeast. 

They warned that there must be consistency and that the government should come to the negotiating table to support some of the poorest parts of the country.

Ugly disputes blighted the previous tiered system when the Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham railed against Downing Street. 

The onerous tiered system which the Prime Minister has said will remain in place until March 31

Dosing ERROR by researchers in the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine trial boosted its success rate to 90%, firm's vice-president reveals 

A dosing error by researchers on the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine trial led to a huge boost in the jab's success rate, the firm's vice president has revealed.

Mene Pangalos, head of AstraZeneca's non-oncology research and development, said: 'The reason we had the half dose is serendipity.'

Volunteers in Britain were expected to receive two full doses of the vaccine as it was trialed in the hope of funding a cure.

Dr Pangalos says researches were perplexed when they noticed volunteers were reporting much milder side effects, such as fatigue, headaches and arm aches, than were originally predicted.

He said: 'So we went back and checked ... and we found out that they had underpredicted the dose of the vaccine by half.'

The post-lockdown system was set out yesterday in a 56-page 'Covid Winter Plan' outlining the three tiers.

The new rules will last until at least March 31 – more than a year after the first lockdown began.

Although the 'stay at home message' of the last month will be dropped, people will be told to minimise travel and work from home where possible until April.

Business leaders welcomed the decision to allow shops to reopen in the run-up to Christmas. Gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons will also be allowed to trade in all three tiers, and grassroots sport will be allowed to resume.

But there was misery for the hospitality sector, which faces crippling restrictions over the vital Christmas period and beyond. Before the lockdown, around half the country was in Tier One. But the PM said 'many more places will be in higher tiers' this time.

Indoor mixing will be banned in Tier Two and above, including in pubs and restaurants. In Tier Two, hospitality venues will be allowed to serve alcohol only with a 'substantial meal'.

In Tier Three, pubs and restaurants will be permitted to offer takeaway services only. Indoor entertainment, including cinemas, bowling alleys and soft play centres, will have to close.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the new measures would 'destroy our sector'.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of the Shepherd Neame pub group, said the measures would be 'devastating'.

He added: 'It is absolutely rotten that they have singled out hospitality in this way. It makes me sick.' Acting CBI chief Josh Hardie said: 'Positive news of vaccines offers a ray of light for 2021.

'But the next few weeks and months will for many feel like purgatory – stuck in limbo between a national lockdown and a new normal.' The Prime Minister said he was very sorry for the economic hardship caused but insisted it was unavoidable given the need to prevent a third wave of coronavirus.

Lauding the Oxford breakthrough, he told a Downing Street press conference: 'We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill.' 

The areas most at risk of being put under Tier Three: East Sussex, Herefordshire and Milton Keynes were among the 10 authorities in England to see biggest spike in Covid infection rates 

East Sussex, Herefordshire and Milton Keynes were the local authorities in England that suffered the biggest spikes in coronavirus cases during the most recent week, official data has revealed. 

Public Health England statistics show infection rates — the number of new coronavirus cases per 100,000 people — shot up by at least 50 per cent in all three areas in the seven-day spell ending November 15. Kent, parts of Essex and London also saw large rises. 

The biggest increases were seen in areas subjected to only Tier One or Two rules under the local system, while the areas that saw the greatest falls in cases were almost all Tier Three areas in the North West, led by Warrington, Oldham, Wigan and Blackburn, which suffered huge numbers of infections during England's second wave.

Boris Johnson last night confirmed the country's second draconian lockdown will end on December 2, with No10 opting to return to a revamped three-tier system that could have to remain in place until at least March 31 — more than a year after the first lockdown began.

Ministers are waiting for the most up-to-date data to decide what brackets individual authorities will be placed in, with the breakdown set to be published on Thursday. Policymakers will analyse rates of infections, test positivity and speed of outbreak growth to decide on the measures.

The worst-hit areas including Hull and the North West are expected to be placed under the toughest Tier Three, which forces restaurants and pubs to shut — unless they offer takeaways.  

Debate rages on over which bracket London should be in, with the capital's mayor Sadiq Khan predicting the city will face Tier Two — which bans mixing indoors with other households. But senior Tories including Sir Iain Duncan Smith last night demanded the city, the beating heart of the UK's economy, is put under Tier One.

Northern mayors have voiced opposition to plans to put them into higher tiers, with Greater Manchester's Andy Burnham saying they could trigger 'widespread business failure' in the region. MPs have warned T2 and T3 will be 'catastrophic' for businesses and spark a damaging new mutiny.

Whitehall sources told the Daily Mail that very few areas would be afforded Tier One restrictions, with only the rural regions — such as Cornwall and South Oxfordshire — likely to see the lightest rules applied. 

Commuters pictured packed onto a London tube on October 26 as the capital's millions continue to toil amid the pandemic

Which local authorities have the highest Covid-19 infection rate?

Location

Oldham

Hull

Blackburn

North East Lincs

Rochdale

Bradford

Wigan

Bury

Kirklees

Salford 

% change

+1.6%

+53.9%

+4.4%

+29.7%

+4.4%

+7.6%

-13.2%

-1.6%

+9.6%

-14.5% 

The above data is based on Public Health England's surveillance report on the seven-day spell up to November 15, the latest for which data is available. 

This is less than two weeks after England's lockdown was imposed, meaning it does not show the impact of the lockdown as it takes up to two weeks for someone infected with the virus to start to show symptoms and then test positive.

*Infection rates are given as Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people. 

The Prime Minister warned last night: 'We expect more regions to fall, at least temporally, into higher levels than before but by using these tougher tiers and by using rapid turnaround tests on an ever greater scale to drive R below one.'

But he added the toughened tiers should make it possible for local authorities 'to move down the tier-ing scale to lower levels of restrictions' as cases start to plummet.

The previous system was heavily criticised for areas being put into Tier Three, and then seemingly having no way out of the curbs.

Politicians and local leaders are today gathering to mount substantial challenges to the restrictions.

In the capital, Tory heavyweight Sir Ian has told the Telegraph that it 'must' be placed in Tier One to revive the country. 

'London is dominant in the economy and we need it to get back to work immediately,' he said.

Another London MP told the Guardian they were 'fiercely lobbying' for pubs, bars and restaurants to be re-opened in the capital.

Sadiq Khan told LBC yesterday: 'It's a bit early to say yet, but based on the numbers that I've seen, which is a slowdown in the virus spreading, it's coming down in parts of London in a couple of boroughs.'

'What I hope would happen is... London would probably be in what is called Tier Two.'

None of London's boroughs have a Covid-19 infection rate below 100 cases per 100,000 people, according to Public Health England figures from the seven-day spell ending November 15, the latest date for which data is available. 

But in 20 of the 32 boroughs the infection rate rose last week, with the biggest jumps in Havering, Enfield and Redbridge. 

The highest infection rate is in Havering, in the north-east of the city, the only borough where they surged above 300 per 100,000. 

The number of patients being rushed to hospital in the capital suffering from Covid-19 remains low, according to the Department of Health, at a seven-day average of 154.7 admissions on November 17. But this is far below the peak of the first wave, when on average 748 patients were being taken to hospital with Covid-19 every day.

These levels are also among the lowest in the country, which ministers are expected to argue mean that London can be spared the sharpest curbs on public freedoms.

Which local authorities have the highest surges in Covid-19 infections? 

Location

East Sussex

Herefordshire

Milton Keynes

Kent

Greenwich

Medway

Southend-on-Sea

Enfield

Slough

North Lincs 

% surge

+58.8%

+56.9%

+50.3%

+45%

+44.5%

+39.3%

+33.3%

+32.9%

+32.1%

+31.6% 

The above is based on Public Health England's surveillance report on the seven-day spell up to November 15, the latest for which data is available.  

This is less than two weeks after England's lockdown was imposed, meaning it is unlikely to show the full impact of the tightened curbs as it takes two weeks for someone infected to get hospitalised.

*Infection rates are given as Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people.

Mayors in the North of England are also mounting opposition to yet again being placed under higher tiers, with Sheffield city leader Dan Jarvis warning: 'We're willing to do our bit, but we must not be taken for granted.'

He added: 'Tougher restrictions have had a massive impact on South Yorkshire’s economy. 

'The Government said it will return to its levelling up agenda after the pandemic, but the brutal reality is we cannot wait that long. 

'At Wednesday’s Spending Review, the Government has a golden opportunity to deliver on its promises. 

'I’ve pressed Ministers to bring forward major investment, to give the North the best chance of weathering the storm, ensure businesses survive a tough winter and allow us to kick start the job of economic recovery and renewal.' 

Greater Manchester's mayor Andy Burnham has come out hard against being plunged into the toughest measures.

Mr Burnham said a toughened Tier Three 'could be devastating for the hospitality industry and will hit cities and the city economy very, very hard indeed'. 

Across England Swale, in Kent, has the worst infection rate in the country at 631.7 per 100,000.

Local leaders there have spoken of their 'frustration' that residents appear not to be following restrictions, and taking simple precautions such as wearing a face mask.

Swale's council leader, Roger Truelove, said lockdown rules in the borough were being 'willfully disregarded', with residents regularly not wearing face coverings and ignoring social distancing.

An emergency council meeting was held yesterday to discuss why the district - which is home to about 150,000 and includes the Isle of Sheppey - has seen such rapid growth of the virus.

The latest analysis of PHE figures, by the Press Association news agency, found Covid-19 case rates started to fall in most local areas across England in the most recent week, up to November 15.

Only two of nine regions - London and the South East - are still recording week-on-week rises in cases. The full impact of England's second national lockdown, however, is yet to become apparent in the data.

It takes up to two weeks for someone who has caught the virus to show symptoms, get tested, and receive a positive result. This means that many infections currently being reported may have occurred before the emergency measures were brought in.

But the latest figures suggest the numbers are heading in the right direction, though not in all parts of England. 

The nationwide restrictions began on November 5, and the most recent figures are for the week ending November 15 – just 14 days into the lockdown. 

Two weeks ago the average infection rates were lower than today - but the worst-hit London boroughs are still outside the top 100 in the league table of 317 authorities in England, Department of Health statistics show

Daily Hospitalisation rates with Covid-19 across England

Region

North East&Yorks

Midland

North West

London

South East

South West

East of England

% change

-8.2% 

-5.5% 

-14.8%  

+12.3%

+9.5%

-8.3%

+6.1%

This data is based on the latest figures from the Department of Health. Daily admissions is the seven-day average of admissions to November 17. And % change is based on the difference between the average on November 17 and November 10. 

Infection surges were recorded in 34 out of 67 local authorities in the South East, with Medway seeing the biggest jump.

Medway, in Kent, had the sixth biggest surge in infections in the country when they rose by 39.3 per cent to 299 per 100,000.

But the biggest week-on-week falls were recorded in the North West - signalling that earlier measures were helping to drive down cases alongside the lockdown.

Warrington saw the biggest fall in England, where infections dropped by 32.5 per cent to 259.6 per 100,000.

It was followed by Oldham, in Greater Manchester, where infections fell by 30.7 per cent to 519.2 per 100,000.

And Wigan saw the third biggest fall with a 30.3 per cent drop to 403.2 per 100,000.

When the tiered system returns on December 3, they will be reviewed every two weeks to establish whether local authorities need to have stricter curbs imposed or can be dropped to lower restrictions. 

It is set to be in place until March 31, at which point the tiered system will come to an end.

Boris Johnson said last night that he hoped the country would be able to get back to normal 'by Easter', predicting this could be when the elderly and most vulnerable members of the population will have received a Covid-19 vaccine.

Three vaccines - including Oxford's jab - have said they are at least 70 per cent effective at triggering an immune response, prompting Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to say 'the end of the tunnel' of the pandemic is in sight.

Mr Khan (pictured earlier this year) thinks his city is going into 'what is called Tier 2'

The UK has ordered 100million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, with up to four million set to arrive this year. It is also expecting the first part of a delivery of 40million doses from Pfizer and BioNtech - who say their vaccine is 90 per cent effective - by the end of the year, and five million doses from Moderna - with a 94.5 per cent effective shot - in the spring next year.

Leaked NHS plans reveal they could start vaccinating the elderly and most vulnerable against the virus in early December, with vaccines being rolled out to the rest of the population in the new year. 

But scientists have urged caution, warning none of the jabs have yet been approved for use by the UK's regulator the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

The regulator reviews data on vaccine effectiveness and how safe it is before deciding whether or not to allow it to be administered across the country. It is a process that usually takes two years but, amid pressure to get life back to normal, the regulator has said it is working hard to make a decision quickly.

The Prime Minister detailed his winter strategy yesterday, with a plan to deploy a major testing scheme in an attempt to win over rebels on the Conservative backbenches.

He told 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.

Mr Johnson also 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. 

Official testing data shows that coronavirus infection rates are falling across the North of England, where they were highest during the peak of the second wave, but they remain high in some areas of the West Midlands, Kent, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire (Darker colours indicate higher rates of positive tests per 100,000 people)

Boris's plan for winter in full: How PM hopes to get 'back to normal' by Easter with 56-page Winter Plan combining vaccines, treatments and tough new lockdown Tiers - WITHOUT crashing the economy

Boris Johnson today published a 56-page Winter Plan mapping out coronavirus rules which will apply to daily life until the Spring when the Government hopes draconian curbs can start to be lifted for good.

The Prime Minister confirmed the England-wide lockdown will end as planned on December 2 and the nation will then move back into a tiered system of measures which will be tougher than those in place before November. 

But Mr Johnson struck an optimistic tone this afternoon as he said 'for the first time since this wretched virus took hold, we can see a route out of the pandemic'.

Below is a breakdown of the Prime Minister's strategy.   

He said 'breakthroughs in treatment, in testing and vaccines mean that the scientific cavalry is now in sight' and by April next year 'these advances should reduce the need for the restrictions we have endured in 2020'. 

Mr Johnson said technological advancements will 'make the whole concept of a Covid lockdown redundant' as he urged the nation to stick to his Winter Plan and endure the 'long road to Spring'.

Scroll down for a full Q and A on what you CAN and CAN'T do under the new rules

The Government's Three Main Objectives

Mr Johnson's Winter Plan is aimed at delivering on three key objectives. 

The first is to bring the R rate of transmission of the disease below the critical number of one and to keep it there on a sustained basis. 

An R number of three, for example, would mean that each infected person goes onto infect a further three people, leading to exponential growth in the virus. 

Boris Johnson today set out his Winter Plan which will guide the UK's coronavirus response during the coming months until a hope for escape from curbs in the Spring

Shoppers pass a Christmas window display in a store on Oxford Street, London, on November 23 following the news that retail stores will be allowed to reopen after December 2

Can I go to the pub? Will there be a curfew? Are gyms allowed to open? Your questions answered as Boris Johnson reveals his post-lockdown plan for England 

Will the lockdown end next week?

Yes. Boris Johnson has confirmed today that the lockdown will end on December 2 - next Wednesday - and it is thought this will come into effect at 00.01am that day. 

What will replace the lockdown? 

The lockdown will be replaced by a system of regional restrictions in three tiers, which is expected to last until the end of March 2021.

Can you see friends outdoors again?

Yes. The Prime Minister said that from next Wednesday, anyone will be allowed to leave their home for any purpose and meet others in outdoor public spaces, subject to the rule of six. 

What else will return?

Collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, the Prime Minister said without giving further details.

He added that personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector can reopen.

Will nail salons and hairdressers be allowed to open?

Yes, nail salons and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen, falling under the 'personal care' sector.

Can non-essential shops open in all three tiers?

Yes. Mr Johnson has confirmed all shops can reopen, whatever tier their area is placed into, in what is a major boost for retailers during the festive period.

Can I go to church again - and are weddings back on?

Yes, church services will be allowed to resume - as well as weddings, with further details to be announced. 

Will I be able to attend sports events?

Yes, with restrictions. Mr Johnson said that spectator sports in tiers one and two will be free to resume inside and outside with capacity limits and social distancing, 'providing more consistency with indoor performances in theatres and concert halls'.

While Mr Johnson did not address specifics, it is understood the Government will allow the lower number of 4,000 spectators - or 50 per cent of a stadium's capacity - for outdoor events in tier one areas. For indoor events in tier one, the maximum allowed will be the lower of 2,000 or 50 per cent of capacity.

In tier two areas, each of these numbers will be halved. So for outdoor events in Tier two, a maximum of 2,000 spectators - or 50 per cent of capacity, whichever is lower - will be allowed. For indoor events the lower number of either 1,000 fans - or 50 per cent of normal capacity - will be allowed.

Areas that will go straight into tier three however will still have to adhere to a ban of attending sporting events for all fans.

What will this mean for working from home?

Mr Johnson said people in tier one should work from home wherever possible. This is different to the more relaxed arrangement under tier one before lockdown. 

Will pubs in tier two be allowed to stay open?

Yes, with new restrictions. Alcohol may now only be served in hospitality settings as part of a 'substantial meal'. 

This is different to before, when all pubs were allowed to stay open in tier two, whether or not they served food.  

Will pubs in tier three be allowed to stay open?

No, apart from takeaways. Mr Johnson has ordered the closure of indoor entertainment, hotels and all forms of hospitality, except for deliveries and takeaways.

This is different to before, when tier three pubs could open but only when serving alcohol as part of a 'substantial meal'.

Will the 10pm curfew rule be eased?

Yes, Mr Johnson has unveiled a plan so 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.

When will you know which tier your area will be put in? 

This Thursday, when Ministers will announce which tier each area will enter based on scientific analysis of the local prevalence of Covid-19. 

Will rules within tiers vary between areas?

No, the Prime Minister said tiers will now be a uniform set of rules. There will be no negotiations on additional measures between each region.

Will my area still be in the same tier as before?

Not necessarily. More areas are expected to enter the higher end of the tiered-system next month, the Prime Minister said.

Can I see my family at Christmas?

Possibly. Mr Johnson has 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.

He has not yet given the specifics and said families will need to make a 'careful judgement' about visiting elderly relatives over Christmas.

The PM told MPs: 'This virus is obviously not going to grant a Christmas truce, it doesn't know it's Christmas and families will need to make a careful judgement about the risk of visiting elderly relatives.

'We will be publishing guidance for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable on how to manage the risks in each tier as well as over Christmas.'

Can I see my family at Christmas if they don't live in England?

Mr Johnson said the Government is working on a time-limited Christmas dispensation with the devolved administrations.

He told the Commons: 'I can't say that Christmas will be normal this year, but in a period of adversity time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none.

'We all want some kind of Christmas, we need it, we certainly feel we deserve it. But what we don't want is to throw caution to the winds and allow the virus to flare up again, forcing us all back into lockdown in January.

'So to allow families to come together, while minimising the risk, we're working with the devolved administrations on a special time-limited Christmas dispensation, embracing the whole of the United Kingdom.'

How will rapid testing be rolled out - and who will get it first?

Mr Johnson said rapid testing will be used by the end of the year to allow every care home resident to have two visitors who can be tested twice a week.

He also told MPs: 'Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly tests from today. And from next month, weekly tests will also be available to staff in prisons, food manufacturing and those delivering and administering Covid vaccines.'

Mr Johnson said testing will enable students to 'go home safely for Christmas' and return back to university. 

What is happening with the testing system?

Mr Johnson  said daily testing will also be used as part of attempts to 'end automatic isolation' for close contacts of those testing positive for Covid-19.  

Keeping the number below one means that on average an infected person would infect less than one other person. This would in turn result in the number of new infections falling.  

The second objective is to find and roll out new and more effective ways of managing coronavirus in order to allow life to 'return closer to normal'. 

This will include deploying vaccines, implementing new medical treatments and improving the NHS Test and Trace programme. 

The third objective is to minimise damage to the economy and to society as well as to jobs and livelihoods. 

Route Back to Normality: Vaccines

Arguably the most important piece of the puzzle for getting life back to normal is the development and roll out of a working coronavirus vaccine.

Mr Johnson's Winter Plan states that vaccines which 'provide durable and effective immunity to COVID-19 will substantially reduce the mortality rate of the virus and may limit its transmission'. 

A working coronavirus jab should therefore allow ministers to ease restrictions because the spread of infection, particularly to people in society's most vulnerable groups, should be greatly reduced. 

The Government has struck deals with seven separate vaccine developers and has secured access to more than 350 million doses between now and the end of next year.  

The roll out of the vaccines will be entirely dependent on them receiving the green light from regulators and the Government has stressed 'the public will always come first'.  

'A COVID-19 vaccine will only be approved for use if it has met robust standards on safety, effectiveness and quality through clinical trials,' the Winter Plan states. 

However, ministers are confident that at least some of the vaccines will clear the regulatory hurdle in the coming months. 

It will then become a question of not just deploying them but also establishing how long it takes for them to be effective and how long immunity could last. 

The roll-out of the vaccination will be the biggest health project ever undertaken by a modern British government and the stakes will be high for it to go well. 

Route Back to Normality: Treatments 

The ability to treat patients with Covid-19 will be critical both before and during the roll out of vaccines because even with the new restrictions there are likely to still be thousands of infections. 

Effective treatments will be 'vital' in managing the virus, especially for people who cannot be vaccinated, for example if they are immunocompromised. 

The Winter Plan states: 'Finding effective treatments will reduce risk to lives and serious illness for people who do contract the virus and support the return to normal life.'

Results are expected in the coming months for a variety of drugs and treatments which could help people fight the disease and recover.     

Route Back to Normality: Testing

If vaccines are the most important piece in the puzzle for getting life back to normal then improved testing is a close second.  

The Government's approach to coronavirus testing has so far focused on symptomatic testing. 

But ministers hope a massive expansion in testing capacity - crucially using rapid turnaround tests - will enable them to better locate asymptomatic cases of the disease and prevent people passing it on unknowingly.

The ability to identify and quarantine people who have coronavirus but are not displaying any symptoms on a mass scale is seen as a potential game changer in the fight against the disease and it could have a massive impact on infection rates. 

The Winter Plan states: 'The Government plans to introduce frequent testing as an alternative to the need for self-isolation for people who have had close contact with someone who has COVID-19. 

'Instead, contacts will be offered regular tests as an alternative to isolation and only have to self-isolate if they test positive.'

Local areas which are placed into the top tier of restrictions will be offered the opportunity to take part in a 'six week testing surge' to tackle local outbreaks. 

Meanwhile, an additional £7billion is being pumped into NHS Test and Trace, taking its overall funding in the current financial year to some £22billion.   

Controlling the Virus: A Return to Tiers

Meeting family and friends

The Rule of Six will return, with variations on whether socialising can take place indoors or outdoors depending on the tier.

In Tier 1 – medium alert – people will be able to meet in groups of six indoors and outdoors, while in Tier 2 – high alert – socialising with five others will only be allowed outdoors.

In Tier 3, the highest alert level, groups of six will only be able to meet in outdoor public spaces, such as parks and sports courts – but not in private gardens. 

Pubs, bars and restaurants

Hospitality will be closed except for takeaway in areas under Tier 3 restrictions, but the rules are slightly more relaxed for Tiers 1 and 2.

In Tier 2, hospitality must close unless it is operating as a restaurant, and alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal.

In Tier 1, venues must be table service only. The 10pm curfew will be replaced with a last orders call at 10pm, and venues must close at 11pm, for Tier 1 and 2.

It is hoped the change to the curfew will prevent the rush to the exit seen under the old rules and result in a more staggered departure from venues by customers. 

Shops, entertainment and hairdressers

In every tier, retail and personal care businesses – such as hairdressers and beauty salons – will be allowed to reopen.

Indoor entertainment venues – such as cinemas, theatres, bowling alleys and casinos – will be allowed to stay open in Tiers 1 and 2, but not Tier 3. 

The return of non-essential shops will be welcomed by business groups because it comes at the start of the critical Christmas rush for many retailers.  

Weddings, funerals and worship

Weddings and civil partnerships can resume but with only 15 guests, though wedding receptions are banned in Tier 3.

Thirty people will be allowed to attend funerals, but only 15 will be able to attend a wake.

Places of worship can reopen in all tiers for collective worship, but in Tiers 2 and 3 people must not interact with anyone outside their household or support bubble.

Gyms and exercise

Gyms and swimming pools will be able to reopen in all tiers.

In Tier 1, classes and organised adult sport can take place outdoors, but must follow the rule of six indoors.

Indoor classes and organised adult sport cannot take place in Tier 2 or 3 if there is interaction with different households.

In Tier 3, classes and organised adult sport can take place outdoors, but people are advised to avoid higher-risk contact activity.

Travel

In Tier 1, people will be told to walk or cycle wherever they can and to avoid travel into Tier 3 areas except for if such a journey is necessary for work or for education.

Tier 2 areas will see people asked to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible and also to avoid travel into Tier 3 areas, except for work or education.

Tier 3 will see people asked to avoid travelling out of the area other than if it is necessary for work or education. They will also be asked to reduce the number of journeys they make where possible.

One of the Government's three main objectives during the coming months is to get the R rate of infection down below one and keep it there

Official estimates show the R rate of transmission is estimated to be significantly different in different parts of the country

Working from Home

During the worst months of the pandemic the Government urged people to work from home wherever they could before then encouraging a return to the office in the summer. 

The guidance was changed again in September back to a plea to stay at home and the Winter Plan is sticking with that approach. 

The blueprint states 'home working can have a significant effect on reducing transmission if all those who can work from home do so'.

Ministers are now encouraging all employers to 'enable a greater degree of home working' with the Government adamant that 'anyone who can work from home should do so'. 

Elite sport and live performances

Large events – such as theatre and spectator sport – will be permitted in Tiers 1 and 2, but with reductions on capacity.

In Tier 3, they will still be banned but drive-in events will be permitted. 

In Tier 1 there will be a restriction on spectator numbers of 50 per cent of capacity or 4,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors, whichever is lower. 

In Tier 2 the spectator levels will be set at 50 per cent of capacity or 2,000 outdoors and 1,000 indoors, whichever is lower.      

Behaviour 

The move back to a tiered approach does not change the basic rules which the Government has been reliant on throughout much of the pandemic. 

That means ministers are still urging people to wear face masks in enclosed environments, to maintain social distancing and to self-isolate when infection is suspected or confirmed.  

The Winter Plan states that the 'normalisation of these behaviours has had an undoubted impact on reducing the spread of the virus' and continued adherence to these behaviours will remain just as critical through the winter'. 

The Government is sticking to its basic advice of telling people to maintain social distancing and to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces

Christmas 

The Government is currently working with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to agree a single set of rules for the festive period. 

The plans are expected to include a slight easing of restrictions to allow families to meet up for a specific number of days. 

The plans are yet to be finalised but a formal announcement is expected later this week. 

Mr Johnson said Christmas would not be 'normal' this year but recognised that 'time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none' in a period of adversity. 

Protecting the NHS and the Vulnerable

During the England-wide lockdown, people who are clinically extremely vulnerable have been told to take 'extra precautions' and to stay at home 'as much as possible'. 

The end of lockdown will see the end of guidance to those people not to go to work or school.

Instead, the Government will reintroduce advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable based on which tier area they live in.

On the issue of social care, the Government is planning to act to prevent care home staff unwittingly transmitting the virus by moving between different sites. 

Ministers are bringing forward legislation by the end of the year which will require all care home providers to restrict 'all but essential movement of staff between settings'.  

Meanwhile, the NHS will be given an additional £205million of support for the winter period, including £80million to bring forward staff recruitment programmes.

The cash is in addition to the £1billion previously announced to help the NHS target a backlog of elective surgeries. 

Ministers are hoping the England-wide lockdown will result in a fall in coronavirus hospital inpatients in the coming weeks

The above graph shows how the second wave of infections has hit the UK when compared to other European nations  

Keeping Education and the Economy Afloat 

The Government's furlough scheme has already been extended to March next year as Chancellor Rishi Sunak tries to avoid a wave of redundancies over the winter months. 

A self-employed income support scheme will remain in place until April while the Government's three main coronavirus business loan schemes will stay open until the end of January next year.  

The Government has already spent more than £200billion on propping up UK PLC and that bill is likely to surge in the coming months. 

On education, it remains the Government's priority to ensure schools, colleges and universities stay open. 

The Winter Plan states: 'The policy in England is that education settings will remain open in all tiers.' 

Ministers have promised that all schools and colleges will have access to coronavirus tests so that staff and students can get checked if they are unable to access testing by another route. 

Every university in England has been offered access to rapid asymptomatic testing.

It remains the Government's plan for exams to go ahead in England next summer. 

Purgatory till Easter: London could be stuck in the toughest tier as the PM unveils a new system to stave off a winter coronavirus surge 

By Jason Groves, Political Editor for The Daily Mail 

England faces at least four more months of Covid restrictions, Boris Johnson said last night, amid fears London could be placed in the new toughest Tier Three.

As he warned of a 'hard winter' ahead, the Prime Minister urged the country to steel itself for 'one final push to the spring' – when developments in vaccines and testing 'should reduce the need for the restrictions we have endured in 2020'.

He confirmed that the month-long second lockdown will end on December 2.

But Mr Johnson told MPs it would be replaced in England with a 'tougher' system of tiered restrictions than the one in place last month. And it will remain in place until March 31 – just before Easter and more than a year after the first lockdown began.

A young woman enjoying a double pint at a pub in Glasgow after beer gardens were permitted to open up in July

Calls for FOURTH tier are ruled out 

By Kate Pickles, Health Correspondent 

A fourth tier of Covid restrictions called for by scientific advisers has been ruled out, official documents suggest.

Ministers were told the move might be required in areas where Tier Three restrictions were not causing cases to fall sufficiently.

However the three-tier system will return when lockdown ends on December 2 – albeit with tougher curbs.

The Sage scientific advisory panel said Tier One measures alone were 'not enough to prevent the epidemic from growing rapidly'.

In a meeting on November 12 it concluded that some models showed a modest 10 per cent reduction in the reproduction number – the R value – when moving from Tier One to Two.

The document added: 'This suggests that Tier Two is the minimum intervention required to maintain any degree of control on transmission, though this would not be the case in all places and there is significant uncertainty. In most cases moving from Tier One to Tier Two would slow growth rather than reverse it.'

Sage experts said it was unclear whether Tier Three restrictions alone would be sufficient at a regional or national level to bring R below 1.

A Sage sub-group statement on November 11 suggested that a higher tier might be required in badly affected areas.

It read: 'There is a great deal of uncertainty about the effect of tiers, particularly Tier Three. Test and trace, including mass testing, is most effective when prevalence is low. Even the most effective test and trace system will have little impact when caseloads are high.

'Given that the impact of tiers will vary depending on the characteristics of different areas, a Tier Four needs to be considered for those parts of the country where Tier Three is not able to shrink the epidemic.

'This is particularly important in the run-up to the winter festive period if relaxation of measures is under consideration. Keeping incidence flat or decreasing is crucial.' 

Whitehall sources last night warned that only 'very few' areas of England would be placed in Tier One, the only level where indoor socialising is allowed. Sources refused to rule out placing London in Tier Three following a recent rise in cases.

Downing Street said people in all three tiers would be asked to work from home 'where possible' until at least April.

And while the formal advice to stay at home will be dropped next week, even those living in Tier One areas will be asked to 'minimise travel'. Shops, gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons will be allowed to reopen in all three tiers.

Outdoor sport can also resume next week, and fans will be allowed to return to sports stadiums in limited numbers. But there was misery for the hospitality sector which faces months of crippling restrictions. In Tier Two, pubs and restaurants will only be permitted to serve alcohol to those ordering a 'substantial meal'.

In Tier Three, pubs and restaurants will be closed for all but takeaways.

Local councils will be given powers to order the 'immediate closure' of firms caught flouting the rules. Businesses will also face new fines if they fail to comply immediately with council orders to implement measures to slow the spread of the virus.

In a sign of the long haul ahead, the Government expanded the system of 'support bubbles' to include other groups vulnerable to isolation, including families with babies aged under one.

Addressing the Commons via video link from his self-isolation in No 10, Mr Johnson said ministers could not allow the virus to 'flare up' again before the 'scientific cavalry' arrives in the spring.

He said breakthroughs on vaccines and testing meant that 'for the first time since this wretched virus took hold, we can see a route out of the pandemic'.

But he added: 'Without sensible precautions, we would risk the virus escalating into a winter or New Year surge.' Details of which areas will be placed in which tiers will be set out on Thursday.

In a shot across the Government's bows, the Tories' London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey told businesses in the capital that Tier Three would be 'a disaster'.

Tory MPs also warned that the PM would face a revolt when Parliament is asked to vote on the measures next week.

Despite the tougher measures, the Government's advisers warned they might not go far enough and a 'Tier Four' may be required.

The British Retail Consortium said allowing shops to reopen in the run up to Christmas would 'help to preserve jobs and the economy'. But Kate Nicholls, of trade body UK Hospitality, said of the restrictions on pubs and restaurants: 'They are killing Christmas and beyond for many businesses and their customers.'

Gyms, hairdressers and beauty salons will also be allowed to trade in all three tiers, and grassroots sport will be allowed to resume (stock photo)

Regions get no say in rankings 

Communities will not be consulted on which Covid tier they will be placed in – and will have no right of appeal.

The Government will set out a map on Thursday detailing which areas will go into each of the three new tiers of restrictions.

The process, which could decide the fate of some businesses, will be overseen by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the chief medical officer Chris Whitty.

Downing Street said decisions would be based on five key factors – an analysis of cases across all age groups; the number of cases among those aged over 60; the rate at which local cases are increasing or falling; the number of positive tests per 100,000 people; and the 'current and projected' pressures on the local NHS. However, no economic factors will be taken into account in the decision.

And No 10 did not publish any benchmarks setting out what level of cases would correspond with each tier.

The system will be reviewed every 14 days to assess whether regions remain in the correct tier.

But, unlike the previous tier system, local communities will not be consulted on which restrictions should apply locally.

The decision follows a stand-off between ministers and the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham last month over whether to place the region into Tier Three.

Downing Street confirmed that communities will have no right of appeal. 

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