People living under the strictest local lockdown rules could be allowed to meet up with each other if they test negative for coronavirus, Boris Johnson has said.
The PM outlined the new tier system that will replace the national lockdown on 2 December, including plans for mass testing in the worst-hit areas.
Announcing his COVID Winter Plan to parliament, he told MPs: “We will now launch a major community testing programme, offering all local authorities in Tier 3 areas in England a six-week surge of testing.
“The system is untried and of course there are many unknowns, but if it works, we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions, for example meeting up in certain places with others who have also tested negative.”
The prime minister added that greater support would be given to those who test positive and need to isolate.
He also revealed that retail stores and gyms will be able to reopen and that the draconian 10pm curfew rule will be changed.
Last orders will now be at 10pm and establishments must shut at 11pm, which will likely lead to more staggered exits so there will be fewer groups spilled out together in the streets and on public transport links.
New rules mean pubs operating under Tier 2 can only trade if customers have a “substantial meal”.
Special officers will be deployed to make sure that bars and restaurants are complying with the rules.
In Tier 3, pubs must shut and can only sell goods for takeaway.
In Tier 1, the rule of six will be the same both indoors and outdoors, allowing people from across households to see each other indoors but in Tiers 2 and 3, people will only be allowed to meet outside, with the exception of during the relaxed rules over Christmas.
Watch: Boris Johnson confirms tougher tier system once lockdown ends
Sports fans will be allowed to return to indoor and outdoor events from 2 December.
The PM announced that outdoor and indoor sporting venues in Tier 1 and 2 areas would be allowed to admit spectators on a limited basis.
He said that post-lockdown, the government will look decide on which areas face tighter restrictions based on analysis of cases in all age groups, also looking at the rate of cases rising or falling, along with current and projected pressures on NHS.
He said: “By using tougher tiers and rapid testing, this would lead to lower levels of restrictions.
“People will be able to see more of their families and friends at Christmas over a period but warned people not to throw caution to the wind.
“I can’t say that Christmas 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.
“The virus isn’t going to give us a Christmas truce. It doesn’t know it’s Christmas.”
Speaking of the advances made with vaccines over the past two weeks, he hailed Monday’s announcement from Oxford University that its vaccine is highly effective at stopping people developing COVID-19 symptoms as a “wonderful British achievement”.
He said: “As we work to suppress the virus, as soon as a vaccine is approved we will dispense it as soon as possible.
“We will use rapid lateral flow testing to identify those without symptoms.
“We’re deploying this in care homes so people can hold hands and hug, instead of waving through a window.
“We’re also using testing in schools and universities to help students go home safely at Christmas.”
He said he was very sorry for the “unavoidable hardship to business owners who have already endured so much destruction this year”.
“2020 has been a tragic year in which we’ve lost so many loved ones and some have faced financial ruin,” he said.
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