When will we see an end to the tier system?
Despite a rebellion from dozens of Tory MPs at the House of Commons vote on the tiers, and backlash from businesses, Matt Hancock said the restrictions were here to stay for the “forthcoming few months.”
Meanwhile, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said there is “every reason” to expect some areas could be moved into a lower tier, depending on the case rate.
Boris Johnson also told MP’s at the Commons vote on December 1 that tiers would be decided on a more “granular” basis after the review in mid-December, raising hopes among backbenchers.
With the news that a vaccine has been approved in England, Mr Hancock encouraged people to “hold their nerve” and stick to the rules.
What does this mean for Christmas?
Boris Johnson confirmed on December 16 that plans to allow families to meet this Christmas will still go ahead, but has urged people to “exercise extreme caution” as they celebrate Christmas amid fears about the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Johnson updated the country on Covid restrictions over the festive period. He announced the relaxation of rules would not be reversed, as Christmas is a “time of year of immense emotional and spiritual importance. He did, however, urge the public to celebrate with “extreme caution”.
Mr Johnson shared it is wrong to “criminalise people who simply want to spend time with their loved ones,” but he added people to consider “whether you can do more to protect yourself and others”.
He added: “We don’t want to ban Christmas, That would be inhuman.”
Professor Chris Whitty then urged the public to celebrate with caution over Christmas, as we are “tantalisingly close” to defeating the virus with a vaccine.
Michael Gove also met virtually with the leaders of the devolved administrations on December 15 to discuss the four-nation ‘Christmas bubble’ plan, amid growing pressure to scrap household mixing over the festive period.
The meeting comes after two British medical journals urged the Government to reverse the “rash” five-day Christmas break, or face a surge in hospital admissions.
Those talks have led to an agreement amongst the four nations to continue with the plan, but with a stronger message warning people of the dangers.
Mr Johnson told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions there was “unanimous agreement” across the four nations “that we should proceed in principle with the existing regulations”.
“We don’t want to criminalise people’s long-made plans,” he said.
“But we do think it’s absolutely vital that people should – at this very, very tricky time – exercise a high degree of personal responsibility, especially when they come into contact with elderly people, and avoid contact with elderly people wherever possible.”
The rules, as it stands, are that on December 23, all restrictions will be relaxed in all tiers until December 27 to allow three households to celebrate together indoors, outdoors or in a place of worship.
Grottos are allowed to open across all tiers, new government guidance confirms, but sitting on Santa’s lap is banned.
Venues must put in place appropriate Covid-secure measures and families are required to maintain social distancing from Father Christmas.
Door-to-door carol singing is permitted as long as groups are outdoors and keep apart from each other.
However, those in Tier 3 are not able to attend school nativity plays and will have to live stream or watch a recording instead. Performances will need to be within existing school bubbles, with no mixing across groups.
Will things change now we have a vaccine?
On December 2, the same day the UK approved the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine, Boris Johnson spoke out regarding the strict three-tier system. He acknowledged the restrictions are “tough” but are nevertheless essential to “keep the virus under control”.
In a press conference on the evening of the announcement, the Prime Minister shared that he hopes certain areas will move down before Easter. However, he emphasised the tier system will remain necessary alongside the vaccine. He shared: “For the time being you’ve got to take it that tiering will be a very, very important part of our campaign against coronavirus.”
Mr Johnson also said we still had “some months before all the most vulnerable are protected” and so, we must remain cautious, and not be “carried away with over optimism”.
He emphasised the Government’s plan relies on the public’s continued sacrifice “for those we love”.
Mr Hancock has also said it is “highly unlikely” that the new coronavirus variant will cause a more serious disease or compromise the vaccine. In his address to the Common’s, he shared:
“I must stress at this point that there is currently nothing to suggest that this variant is more likely to cause serious disease and the latest clinical advice is that it’s highly unlikely that this mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine, but it shows we’ve got to be vigilant and follow the rules and everyone needs to take personal responsibility not to spread this virus.”
At a press conference on December 14, Professor Kevin Fenton, the regional director of Public Health England, encouraged Londoners to accept the vaccine as soon as they have the chance.
Speaking on the same day that the Government announced the capital would move to Tier 3; he stated the jab was “highly effective”, before suggesting it is one of the “keys to unlock the door to the end of this pandemic”.