England’s national lockdown will end on Dec 2 but be replaced by a new harsher three-tier system, Boris Johnson will announce on Monday.
More areas will be placed into the higher tiers than before the lockdown after warnings from Sage scientists that the previous levels of restrictions were not strong enough and a tougher regional approach was needed.
The Telegraph can also reveal that everywhere from factories and offices to towns and cities will be blitzed with mass testing if cases start to rise, under plans to be set out this week.
The news came as it emerged that:
People are set to be given “freedom passes” to allow them to live as normal a life as possible – as long as they have two negative coronavirus tests a week, under a plan to get the country back to normal next year.
Passport makers are in talks with the Government to provide travellers with secure certificates to prove they are not carrying coronavirus.
One in four people said they would break rules to see family and friends on Christmas Day, polling has found.
The Prime Minister’s “Covid winter plan” is expected to place more areas into the higher tiers to ensure further restrictions are not needed.
While some local measures will be similar to those in the previous system, some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the national lockdown.
On Saturday night it emerged that the 10pm curfew for restaurants and pubs - which has been severely criticised by Tory MPs - is likely to be extended to 11pm when the tiers are published on Monday.
Final details will be signed off at a meeting of the Cabinet on Sunday. Details of the new tougher tiers system, which comes into force on Dec 3, will be announced on Monday, with the final decision on which areas are in which tiers on Thursday. The plan will set out how people will be able to spend their Christmas, but ministers have made clear that the festive season will be different to normal, with some restrictions expected to remain in place.
Ministers will decide which areas are moved into different tiers at the last possible moment, when they have access to the latest information on the virus’s reproductive rate, its prevalence and incidence in the population, and whether infections are increasing or declining.
The new plans for mass testing are seen by Mr Johnson as a way “to help provide a way to suppress the virus and relax restrictions”, No 10 said.
So-called “lateral flow” tests – which give results in as little as 20 minutes – of large populations will allow health officials to identify people who have the virus but do not show symptoms, ensuring that everyone who needs to isolate does so.
The plan to “blitz” areas where infections are high could be in place by Christmas. People living in areas where the tests are carried out would be asked voluntarily to be tested.
Ministers are hoping that the new plan will control the virus until vaccines can be made widely available.
No 10 said on Saturday that provided vaccines were approved by regulators, the first injections can be made next month before being rolled out more widely in the new year.
The Army could also be asked to run the testing operation, although no formal request has yet been made to the Ministry of Defence.
The Government’s Sage advisers will publish papers on Monday setting out the scientific advice that the previous tiers were not strong enough, and that a tougher regional approach is required.
Mr Johnson will also confirm the length of time people have to quarantine after arriving in the UK from overseas will be cut from 14 days to just five days in a boost for the travel industry ahead of the crucial new year bookings period.
A No 10 source said: “It is the Prime Minister’s hope and belief that progress in mass testing can – if everyone continues to pull together – provide a way to suppress the virus and relax restrictions until a vaccine becomes available.”
MPs will be given a vote on the plans early next week before they come into force on Wednesday.
However, it emerged on Saturday night that Mr Johnson might need to pass his plans through the House of Commons with the support of Labour MPs after 70 Tory MPs threatened to vote them down. The Conservative MPs – all members of the anti-lockdown Covid Recovery Group – told Mr Johnson in a letter that they could not support further new restrictions as long as the Government does not publish an economic analysis of the impact.
The MPs said: “The Government must publish a full cost-benefit analysis of the proposed restrictions on a regional basis so that MPs can assess responsibly the non-Covid health impact of restrictions.”
The number of signatories to the letter is more than enough to defeat the Government if Labour votes against the plans.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister and his scientific advisers are clear the virus is still present – and without regional restrictions it could quickly run out of control again before vaccines and mass testing have had an effect.
“That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made, and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS.”