Prime Minister Boris Johnson has this afternoon given statement to the House of Commons, where he has outlined the ‘Covid Winter Plan’, which involves a stricter version of the three-tier system of rules that operated in England before the current four-week national lockdown began.
With the current lockdown due to expire on December 2nd, today’s announcement has been hotly debated this week, as businesses and people across the country prepare for the Christmas period.
Johnson opened his speech by addressing the future of the country: “For the first time since this wretched virus took hold, we can see a route out of the pandemic. The breakthroughs in treatment, in testing and vaccines mean that the scientific cavalry is now in sight and we know in our hearts that next year we will succeed.
“By the Spring, these advances should reduce the need for the restrictions we have endured in 2020 and make the whole concept of a Covid lockdown redundant. When that moment comes, it will have been made possible by the sacrifices of millions of people across the United Kingdom.
“Our Winter Plan is designed to carry us safely to Spring.”
But, until then, there will be a re-introduction of many restrictions prior to the four-week lockdown.
National restrictions in England will end on December 2nd, and they will not be renewed. From next Wednesday people will be able to leave their home for any purpose, and meet others in outdoor public spaces, subject to the Rule of Six.
Collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, and shops, personal care, gyms and the wider leisure sector can reopen.
The regional tiered approach is being re-introduced until the New Year. The new distribution of regions in their respective tiers will be announced later this week.
While the previous local tiers did cut the R number, they were not quite enough to reduce it below 1. Therefore, the scientific advice is that the tiers need to be made tougher, according to Johnson.
In particular, in tier 1 people should work from home wherever possible. In tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal. In tier 3, indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will have to close, along with all forms of hospitality, except for delivery and takeaways.
The 10pm closing time for hospitality is going to change, so that last orders will occur at 10pm with closing at 11pm.
In tiers 1 and 2, spectator sports and business events 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.
Johnson continued: “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 are working with the Devolved Administrations on a special, time-limited Christmas dispensation, embracing the whole of the United Kingdom, and reflecting the ties of kinship across our islands.
“But this virus is obviously not going to grant us a Christmas truce, it doesn’t know it’s Christmas Mr Speaker 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.”
Regarding the future of a vaccine and testing, Johnson said: “As we work to suppress the virus with these local tiers, two scientific breakthroughs will ultimately make these restrictions obsolete. As soon as a vaccine is approved, we will dispense it as quickly as possible. But given that this cannot be done immediately, we will simultaneously use rapid turnaround testing, the lateral flow testing that gives results within 30 minutes, to identify those without symptoms so they can isolate and avoid transmission.
“We are beginning to deploy these tests in our NHS and in care homes in England, so people will once again be able to hug and hold hands with loved ones, instead of waving at them through a window. By the end of the year, this will allow every care home resident to have two visitors, who can be tested twice a week.
“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. We are also using testing as the House knows to help schools and universities stay open, and testing will enable students to know they can go home safely for Christmas and indeed back from home to university.
“The vaccine developed with astonishing speed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is now one of three capable of delivering a period of immunity. We don’t yet know when any will be ready and licensed, but we have ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, and over 350 million in total, more than enough for everyone in the UK, the Crown Dependencies and the Overseas Territories. And the NHS is preparing a nationwide immunisation programme, ready next month, the like of which we have never witnessed.”
Culture Secretary announces return of fans to elite sports events and reopening of grassroots sport
Supporters will be welcomed back into stadia and sports venues in limited numbers from 2 December, in a major boost for fans, professional sports clubs and elite sport events.
Organised grassroots sport is also allowed to resume from 2 December and gyms and leisure centres will be able to reopen across all tiers, benefitting the health and wellbeing of people across the country.
Elite sport clubs and events hosted outdoors in tier one locations will be able to welcome up to a maximum of 4,000 fans or 50 per cent of stadium capacity – whatever is lower.
In tier two (high alert) locations the cap is set at 2,000 supporters or 50 percent of stadium capacity.
Indoor sporting events and fixtures in tiers one and two locations will be able to host a maximum of 1,000 fans or 50 per cent of stadium capacity – whatever is lower.
However in tier three locations, fans will not be permitted to attend elite sporting fixtures in line with hospitality venues and other large event venues being closed. Elite sport in tier three locations will still continue behind closed doors.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “This is a big step forward for sport. Bringing grassroots sport back was my number one priority so I’m pleased we are reopening sports and gyms in every tier, in recognition of the significant health benefits.
“I’m also delighted we are able to get the turnstiles turning sooner than expected, taking a cautious approach and starting with the lowest risk areas first. I’m confident that sports will take every step to ensure their fans are safe, and fans will play their part and look out for each other until we can safely get everyone back in.”
Organised grassroots sport is allowed to resume from 2 December across all levels, providing social distancing remains in place, although there will be some restrictions on highest-risk activity in tier three areas. Spectators at non-elite sports will be able to attend events in line with Covid-secure guidance for each tier.
Indoor sport and physical activity will also resume, although there will be restrictions on some activities due to the higher transmission risk of coronavirus in an indoor setting. Restrictions will depend on the alert level that applies to your local area.
In tier one areas indoor sports can take place within the rule of six. This will mean people from different households could play 3 on 3 volleyball, or four people from different households could play doubles tennis or badminton. Group activities such as training sessions and exercise classes can take place in larger numbers, provided that people are in separate groups (up to 6 people) which do not mix.
In tier two areas, indoor sport can take place within households, and people can take part in group activity like exercise classes as long as there is no mixing between households. People can play certain sports which do not involve close proximity or physical contact against one person from another household, such as a singles tennis match or badminton match.
In tier three areas, indoor sport will be restricted to within your household only, and there should be no group activity such as exercise classes.
Further guidance will be published in due course.