Households to be banned from mixing after lockdown in bid to save Christmas

Households across the country are set to be banned from mixing when lockdown ends under Government plans to rescue Christmas, The Telegraph understands.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly promised that the national lockdown will be replaced with a "regional tiered approach" when it ends on December 2.

But Government sources say default restrictions across the country are likely to include a ban on mixing with other households until close to Christmas.

Ministers intend to announce an "end of lockdown package" next week, including a schedule for Britain’s vaccination programme and an expansion of mass testing, which they hope will soften the blow of further restrictions.

The plans aim to allow a loosening of restrictions for Christmas, with scientists suggesting a number of households might be allowed to "bubble" together for a short period. Christmas bubbles could last for five days.

But MPs are furious at the prospect of renewed measures, saying any attempt to "effectively continue the lockdown by another means" could see a backlash in the Commons. 

Health officials have said they are looking at strengthening the tier system, while ministers suggested on Tuesday that a tougher fourth tier may be introduced in the worst hit areas. 

Government sources said that even without any changes almost every part of the country currently has infection rates so high that they would fall into at least Tier 2, in which indoor household mixing is banned, when the lockdown is lifted. 

Restrictions are set to be announced in Parliament next week, with changes subject to a vote in the House of Commons. 

One Government source said: "It doesn’t seem possible that there would be any part of the country that would be in what’s now called Tier 1. It’s likely that everyone would fall into Tier 2 as minimum, and we are looking at bolstering the tiers.

"We are wanting to get into a position where people can meet inside for Christmas, and the hope is that the right measures in December – combined with the further rollout of mass testing – could get us there."

Under the old system, Tier 1 imposed the "rule of six" on gatherings and forced pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm. 

Tier 2 had those rules but also banned all indoor social gatherings, while Tier 3 banned all social gatherings, indoors or out, other than in public spaces and told people not to travel out of the area.

Ministers are also examining proposals to introduce a new Tier 4, which could see areas with the highest infection levels subject to measures that are not far off full lockdown. 

On Tuesday, Robert Jenrick, the Communities Secretary, said: "We are reviewing the tiers so that when the national measures come to an end on December 2, we’re able to move the country, we hope, back into the tiered structure."

Asked about the introduction of a stricter fourth tier, he said: "We haven’t come to a decision on that, but the Tier 3 that we had before was just considered a baseline."

Mr Jenrick suggested that extra restrictions that were taken on a voluntary basis by councils in Tier 3 areas, such as forcing off-licences to close by 9pm, could in future be "embedded" into Government requirements. 

In Scotland, the "level 4" restrictions for areas with the highest infection rates mean the closure of all pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops, with households only allowed to meet in twos and outdoors. On Tuesday, the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that 11 council areas will be under those measures until December 11. 

Government sources said current planning involved an element of "damage limitation" around Christmas. 

On Tuesday, Professor Neil Ferguson – whose modelling led to the first lockdown in March – said there were "ways of going part way" in allowing families to gather at Christmas without letting cases soar.

He said: "You could think of allowing three of four households to bubble together for a week but not contact anybody else, which would give more opportunity to see loved ones but not a free for all. That, modelling would suggest, increases risk somewhat – but in a controllable way."

Former chief whip Mark Harper, leader of the newly formed Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of around 70 Tory lockdown sceptics warned that any Tier 4 proposal was unlikely to win the support of Conservative MPs. If all CRG members opposed the plans, it would be enough to overturn the Government’s working majority of 85, taking into account Sinn Fein MPs, who do not vote, the Speaker and the deputy Speaker.

Mr Harper said: "The PM has been very clear that the current lockdown will end on December 2. Any attempt by Government to effectively continue the lockdown by another means will be very badly received by backbenchers."

On Tuesday night, the head of the British Medical Association (BMA) said England should not return to the "rule of six" after lockdown. Dr Chaand Nagpaul said a "two households" rule should be enforced across the country along with mask-wearing in workplaces and schools and the introduction of more stringent restrictions in areas that require them. 

In a new report, the BMA said the current tiered system of restrictions was "inadequate".

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