Prime minister Boris Johnson has published the government’s Covid winter plan, warning of a ‘tougher’ tiered approach over the next four months to ensure no resurgence of the virus before a mass vaccination programme begins, but indicating life should return to normal by spring 2021
The plan stated: ‘Government has procured hundreds of millions of vaccine doses to be made available across the UK, the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. We are preparing for a nationwide vaccination programme to be deployed at an enormous scale across the whole country from next month.’
In the interim, the plan seeks to bring R, which signifies the rate of infection with the virus, below 1, find new ways of managing the virus and enabling life to return closer to normal, and minimise damage to the economy and society.
Johnson said national restrictions will end on 2 December. Across England, this means the ‘stay at home’ order will end and shops, gyms, personal care, and the leisure sector will reopen.
Collective worship, weddings and outdoor sports can resume, and people will not be limited to seeing one other person in outdoor public spaces. Instead, the rule of six will again apply.
However, England will move back into a regional, tiered approach, similar to the rules which applied prior to the second national lockdown.
Some restrictions will be amended, given lessons learned from previous tiers. For example, the hospitality curfew has been modified to last orders at 10pm and closing time at 11pm, allowing customers to depart in a staggered way.
In tiers 1 and 2, spectator sport can also resume outside with capacity limits and social distancing, providing consistency with theatres and concert halls.
Johnson emphasised that all tiers will be toughened. For example, in tier 1 people will be encouraged to minimise travel and work from home where possible.
In tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal. In tier 3, hospitality will close except for delivery and takeaway, and indoor entertainment venues, such as cinemas, casinos and bowling alleys, must also close.
These tiers will be uniform, without negotiations on specific measures. Details of which parts of the country are included within which particular tier will be announced on Thursday.
Decisions will be based on criteria including case rates in all age groups; case rates in the over 60s; the rate at which cases are rising or falling; the number of cases as a percentage of tests taken; and pressure on the NHS, including current and projected occupancy.
Tiering allocations will be reviewed every 14 days, and tiering regulations will expire in law at the end of March.
Johnson indicated his government is working with the devolved administrations on plans for temporary relaxation over Christmas and will set out details shortly, including for the clinically extremely vulnerable.
Tier 3 areas will be able to participate in a six-week community testing programme to identify asymptomatic cases, and ensure they self-isolate.
The government also plans to introduce frequent testing as an alternative to the need for self-isolation for people who have had close contact with a positive case.
Instead, contacts would have regular tests during the isolation period and only have to self-isolate if they test positive.
This approach will be trialled in Liverpool first, where a mass testing exercise is already taking place. If successful, they will be rolled out across the NHS and care homes in December, and to everyone else from early next year.