Boris Johnson will on Sunday outline plans for families to see each other at Christmas alongside a tougher three-tiered regional coronavirus strategy for England, which will come into effect after the national lockdown ends on December 2.
Responding to reports that the government planned to scrap the 10pm curfew on pubs, Rishi Sunak told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that it was being looked at.
“One of the things that we have been able to do as we learn is get data, see what works and see where we can improve,” he said.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine and member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said experience had shown that curfews on hospitality outlets were not effective in keeping the virus under control.
“Fiddling at the edges of something like drinking times and pub closing times is simply not an effective mechanism . . . With pubs and clubs you have to look at the whole human behaviour,” he said.
Cabinet ministers are expected to discuss and sign off on the Covid Winter Plan on Sunday, and Mr Johnson will announce the new restrictions to MPs in parliament the following day.
The introduction of a harsher tiered system will intensify tensions between Mr Johnson and rebel backbenchers.
On Saturday, 70 MPs from the newly formed Covid Recovery Group alongside 14 peers wrote to the prime minister threatening to vote down the new restrictions.
“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 MPs warned.
Last month, more than 30 rebels voted against the introduction of nationwide restrictions in November, including Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 committee and former chief whip Mark Harper.
The government may be reliant on Labour to pass the new measures. Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds told the BBC that Labour would need to scrutinise the detail of the plans.
“I hope that when the prime minister sets out the plan there will be much more clarity about why different areas may end up in each tier, what support will be available for businesses and obviously we will look at the plans very, very carefully from that point of view,” she said.
In an interview with Sky News, Lucy Powell, shadow business and consumer affairs minister, called for a route map outlining the restrictions through to 2021, adding that businesses had been “left on their knees” by mixed messaging on restrictions.
On Monday, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies is expected to detail the scientific advice behind the measures and produce evidence that the tier system introduced in England in October was ineffective.
On Thursday, ministers will outline the areas to be placed into each tier, with measures set to be strengthened in some areas, to “safeguard the gains made during the period of national restrictions”.
Downing Street has signalled that more areas will be placed into the highest tiers.
No end date for the tiered system has been specified but the government has said that measures will be reviewed regularly and will take into consideration the need to support local economies and businesses.
No 10 said that recent developments on vaccine trials and mass testing, provided “real confidence” that restrictions could “be gradually reduced” in the lead-up to spring.
The government will also continue talks with leaders from the devolved nations next week to finalise a UK-wide approach to the festive season.
The winter plan will set out the extent to which families will be able to spend time with their loved ones. However, ministers, including Mr Sunak and health secretary Matt Hancock, have said the public should not expect a normal Christmas.
A further 19,875 positive infections were recorded in the UK on Saturday alongside 341 Covid deaths within the 24-hour period. This compares to 511 recorded deaths on Friday.
At Friday’s Downing Street press briefing however, the national medical director of NHS England, Steve Powis warned against complacency, observing that while the number of Covid-19 hospital inpatients in England appeared to be levelling off, scientists would need to analyse more data in the coming weeks.
Next week, Rishi Sunak is expected to announce a £500m package for mental health in recognition of the continued impact of coronavirus on mental wellbeing.
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