Boris Johnson to relax the national coronavirus lockdown and allow households to celebrate together over Christmas

  • Boris Johnson's government is set to relax coronavirus rules for several days over Christmas.
  • Multiple households — reportedly up to three — will be able to mix in homes and pubs for a short period of time.
  • However, the prime minister is also expected to reveal a tougher new system of tiers for England's regions.
  • Unlike the previous system, households will not be able to mix indoors, according to multiple reports.
  • Non-essential retail will be allowed to re-open while outdoor sport and religious services will be able to resume.
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to announce that strict coronavirus rules will be suspended for several days over Christmas, allowing multiple households across the country to mix both at home and in pubs over the festive period.

Johnson will announce a UK-wide plan for relaxed rules at the end of December after discussions with scientists, government ministers, and the devolved administrations about how to let people see their families this Christmas in a way that minimises transmission of the virus.

The details of the government's Christmas plan are yet to be confirmed. However, ITV's Robert Peston reported that up to three households will be allowed to form bubbles for five days between December 23 and 27.

Johnson is expected to announce the plan this week, possibly as soon as Tuesday, once it has been signed off by the devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales as part of a UK-wide approach.

The prime minister will on Monday afternoon also set out to Members of Parliament details of a new regional tier system for England that will replace the current national lockdown when it expires on Wednesday, December 2.

The new system of local restrictions is expected to be harsher than its predecessor, with households in tier 2 and 3 areas unable to mix in any other indoor setting, possibly for several months.

The toughened tiers are set to be particularly restrictive for England's hospitality industry.

Unlike the previous tier system, households will not be allowed to mix in pubs, restaurants, and other hospitality settings, according to multiple reports. Pubs and restaurants in tier 2 will only be allowed to serve alcohol to people in the same household as part of "substantial meals," and in tier 3 they will have to be takeaway-only, reports suggest.

However, the 10pm curfew for the hospitality industry is set to be scrapped after widespread criticism of the policy, The Mail on Sunday reported, meaning pubs and restaurants that are able to open will have to close at 11pm. 

Non-essential retail will be allowed to re-open under every tier, according to multiple reports, while The Times of London and The Telegraph respectively reported that outdoor sport and religious services would be able to resume.

The government is not expected to announce which regions are going into which tiers until Thursday once it has been briefed by scientific advisors on the latest coronavirus data. Most regions are expected to be in either tier 2 or tier 3.

Johnson to scrap 14-day isolation period for coronavirus contacts

It is shaping up to be a major week in the UK's fight against the coronavirus, with Prime Minister Johnson also set to make two major announcements on the country's testing regime.

Firstly, the prime minister intends to scrap the 14-day isolation requirement for individuals who come into contact with people infected by the virus. Instead, contacts will be able to take a test every day for a week and will only have to isolate if one of those tests returns a positive result, The Telegraph reported. The system is being trialled in Liverpool next week.

Secondly, the government will commit to giving all regions in England put in tier 3 access to mass-community testing, after the successful trial of rapid lateral flow tests in Liverpool. These tests produce COVID-19 test results in 30 minutes and are designed to be carried out on every single member of a local population.

Johnson will today tell MPs that while the number of new coronavirus cases in England is "flattening off" after the imposition of the national lockdown earlier this month, the country is "not out of the woods yet."

However, he will say "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."

"The major testing programme will draw on the use of tens of millions of tests in the coming weeks and months and form part of a package of measures that confirm the end of national restrictions and a return to regional tiers."

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