Boris Johnson to announce major coronavirus testing programme in bid to save Christmas

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Family Christmases are back on as Boris Johnson is set to announce plans to ease coronavirus curbs over the festive period on Monday.

The Prime Minister will make a Commons statement outlining the basis for relaxing Covid-19 restrictions so relatives can hold limited celebrations during a brief window.

Mass testing for the disease will mean people can visit relatives indoors in care homes from next month.

Mr Johnson said: “The selflessness of people in following the rules is making a difference.”

The Conservative leader is also expected to outline a beefed-up, three-tier regime to replace England’s national lockdown, which ends on December 2.

As part of the major community testing programme, each care home resident will be able to have up to two visitors who can be tested for the virus twice a week.

Boris Johnson will announce an easing of Covid restrictions for the festive season
(Image: VICKIE FLORES/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

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As long as they keep testing negative, they will be able to hug and hold hands with their loved ones.

Food factory workers, prison officers and staff delivering and administering Covid-19 vaccines are also set to be offered weekly testing from next month.

Repeat testing will be extended so close contacts of people who test positive do not have to self-isolate.

They will be offered daily tests for a week and will only need to quarantine if they are diagnosed with coronavirus.

A trial will begin in Liverpool within a day.

Families could be allowed to meet at Christmas
(Image: Getty Images)

Eased restrictions could allow different households to mix at Christmas
(Image: PA)

If the pilot works it will be extended to the NHS and care homes next month and rolled out to everyone from January.

Mr Johnson said: “The virus is not spreading nearly as quickly as it would if we were not washing our hands, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and so on – and in England, where nationwide measures came into effect at the start of this month, the increase in new cases is flattening off.

“But we are not out of the woods yet.

“The virus is still present in communities across the country, and remains both far more infectious and far more deadly than seasonal flu.

“But with expansion in testing and vaccines edging closer to deployment, the regional tiered system will help get the virus back under control and keep it there.”

A poll showed one in four people would break rules to see family and friends on Christmas Day if restrictions banned them.

People enjoy a walk along the promenade during the mild weather in Brighton
(Image: PA)

Leaders from the UK’s four nations are set to finalise this week how a festive respite from curbs will work and how long it will last.

Details on how many households will be allowed to mix and for how long are expected to follow.

Reports suggest up to four households could mix for a maximum five days.

Michael Gove held weekend talks with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the First and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, the Cabinet Office said tonight.

Negotiations took place to agree “a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days”, according to a statement.

Shoppers wait in a queue to enter stores in Cardiff
(Image: PA)

“Ministers reiterated the importance of allowing families and friends to meet in a careful and limited way, while recognising that this will not be a normal festive period and the risks of transmission remain very real,” it said.

“Ministers endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days, but also emphasised that the public will be advised to remain cautious, and that wherever possible people should avoid travelling and minimise social contact.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak admitted: “It’s not going to be a normal Christmas this year.

“I think the good news is we’re going to be exiting national restrictions, which is something that I think people at the beginning of this were doubtful of and we said that was very much what we wanted to deliver, and we are going to deliver that.

People protest lockdown restrictions in Hull
(Image: PA)

“The Prime Minister will be setting out more details tomorrow about going back to a more localised approach, seeing what we can do to allow families to see each other at Christmas time.”

SAGE expert Calum Semple, professor of outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show: “In reality we can’t ban Christmas and to do so would simply lead to breaches and what are you going to do about that?”

He added: “Hopefully, if the system works, we will be able to relax some regulations for a few days, but there’s always a price for that.”

Restrictions for the festive period could be eased
(Image: Getty Images)

Shadow Business Minister Lucy Powell said: “I think we all want to be able to see our families in some way over Christmas, but we don’t want to do that in a way that we then have to pay a heavy price in the following weeks.

“I think what we want is measured clarity so that we can, yes, see our families in some way.

“I think we all recognise that Christmas is going to be a very, very different kind of Christmas this year, but it’s not just about Christmas, it’s about the coming weeks and the weeks after Christmas as well.

“That’s why we need this clear route map.”

The plans for a stronger tier system for England due to be outlined by Mr Johnson on Monday were rubber-stamped in an emergency Cabinet meeting tonight.

Different areas will be plunged into a beefed-up tiered regime of regional restrictions, with a decision due to be taken on Thursday.

The 10pm pub and restaurant curfew for venues allowed to open is likely to be axed after experts said it had little effect on curbing the spread of the disease.

Mr Sunak said the move was “definitely something we’re looking at”.

All shops, including those selling non-essential goods, are expected to stay open – even in areas in the highest alert category.

Car parks full to capacity on the Tyneside coast as crowds of people descend upon Tynemouth Longsands beach this afternoon
(Image: North News)

But the PM could face another backbench rebellion to his “Winter Covid Plan” for England after dozens of Conservative MPs warned they may not back further restrictions without extensive evidence.

However, any revolt would be unlikely to torpedo the strategy because Labour would be expected to support an overhaul of the tiered system.

The UK’s coronavirus death toll rose by 398 on Sunday to 55,024.

Officials recorded another 18,662 cases.

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