Boris Johnson will today unveil plans for a £7billion mass testing revolution – cutting the time for those who have to self-isolate to one week if their results are negative, as he tried to head off a revolt by 70 of his own MPs.
The move will allow thousands to get back to normal life even if they have come into contact with an infected person.
Tens of millions of fast-turnaround tests will also be made available to areas put in the highest level of the new tiered system of Covid restrictions.
The announcement comes as Mr Johnson faces a major backbench rebellion, with 70 Tory MPs refusing to support new measures unless he proves they will work.
MPs in the Covid Recovery Group wrote to the Prime Minister on Sunday night, demanding he give Parliament a full ‘cost-benefit analysis’ of the new system amid concerns over the ongoing effect on the economy and also people with existing long-term health problems.
Boris Johnson will today unveil plans for a £7billion mass testing revolution – cutting the time for those who have to self-isolate to one week if their results are negative
The scheme will deploy new ‘lateral flow tests’ which have been trialled in Liverpool and can produce results within 30 minutes.
Ministers believe they could revolutionise the test and trace system, which has struggled to persuade people to self-isolate for the full 14 days.
Under a new system, those who come into contact with an infected person will be able to take a Covid test every day for a week.
If they test negative they will be able to go about their lives as normal. After seven days of negative tests they will be released from the system. Trials of the scheme will begin this week in Liverpool, where the Army has been helping to conduct the first mass testing of an entire city.
If successful, the project will be rolled out for NHS staff next month, before being made available to everyone from January.
Fast-turnaround tests will also be used to enable care home visits this winter. Downing Street last night confirmed that ministers hope to be able to allow residents to receive regular visits from two loved ones.
The scheme will deploy new ‘lateral flow tests’ which have been trialled in Liverpool and can produce results within 30 minutes
Named visitors will be tested twice a week. Negative tests will allow people to visit their loved ones and drop social distancing requirements.
A Number 10 spokesman said: ‘Crucially, visitors will be able to have physical contact, such as a hug or holding hands with their loved ones.’
Trials have already begun in 20 care homes ahead of a national rollout planned for next month.
Care workers looking after people in their homes will also be offered weekly tests from today.
The mass testing initiative is part of a new Covid Winter Plan to be announced by the PM today.
It is expected to cost £7 billion, taking the total bill for NHS Test and Trace to £22 billion this year.
Ministers believe mass testing could play a critical role in enabling society to open up again in the coming months.
Plans are also being drawn up for the development of so-called ‘freedom passes’, which could allow people to attend events like live theatre and sport matches.
But these are not likely to be available until the New Year.
In the short term, the tests will be deployed mainly to help bring the pandemic under control.
Mass testing will be made available to all areas placed in the ‘very high risk’ category of the updated three-tier system the PM will roll out today.
The mass testing initiative is part of a new Covid Winter Plan is expected to cost £7 billion, taking the total bill for NHS Test and Trace to £22 billion this year
Sources said trials in Liverpool had shown the tests had proved effective in detecting cases in people with no symptoms, helping to break the chain of transmission and bring down case numbers more quickly.
Weekly tests will also be made available to people in high risk occupations, including prisons and food processing plants.
Teams of people delivering the new vaccines in the coming months will also be eligible for regular testing.
Twice-weekly testing has already begun in the NHS to help identify asymptomatic cases and prevent outbreaks in hospitals.
Care home staff will have testing doubled from weekly to twice weekly from next month. Care home residents will be offered tests weekly rather than the current once a month.
Universities will also be offered testing capacity to test students wanting to travel home to their families at Christmas.
Shops and gyms are to re-open next week… and family CAN come round for Christmas: Boris Johnson plans some festive cheer by allowing up to three households to get together over Yuletide
Shops and gyms will be given the green light to reopen next week, Boris Johnson will announce today.
The Prime Minister will confirm that the second national lockdown in England is to end on December 2, when a new system of tiered Covid restrictions will be introduced.
He is also close to agreeing a UK-wide Christmas deal with Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon and other devolved leaders that will allow families a chance to see some friends and loved ones.
The decision will depend on a range of factors, including the number of Covid cases, local NHS capacity and the local R-number – the rate at which the virus is spreading
The proposal would allow up to three households to gather for Christmas, provided they meet with no one else during this period. The respite will last for five days, beginning on Christmas Eve and running through to the Bank Holiday Monday on December 28.
Travel and overnight stays will be permitted across the UK to allow friends and families to unite for the Christmas break. But there will be no relaxation of the rules for New Year.
Government sources said last night that after England’s lockdown ends on December 2, non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen across the country in the hope that retailers can salvage part of their vital Christmas trade.
Gyms will be permitted to reopen in all tiers, and outdoor sport will be allowed to resume. But, under the plan signed off by the Cabinet last night, most of the country will be placed in the top two tiers, where the hospitality sector will remain subject to heavy restrictions.
Sources said ‘most people’ would be placed in tiers two and three, where all indoor socialising with other households will be banned – potentially until the spring.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday acknowledged that Christmas ‘is not going to be normal’, but said ministers wanted to give families some respite without risking a third wave of the virus.
Public Health England warned last week that five days of tougher restrictions would be needed for every day of relaxation over Christmas. But the Chancellor played down the warning, saying it was ‘difficult to be so precise’.
Police chiefs warned last week that they had no interest in trying to enforce the rules around family gatherings at Christmas. Government sources said the Prime Minister would appeal to people to show ‘common sense’ in ensuring that the Christmas relaxation does not spark a fresh surge in cases.
Mr Sunak said the new tiered system would be ‘tougher’ than the previous one. It is expected to last until the spring, when ministers hope the rollout of vaccines will allow life to start returning to normal. Ministers will announce on Thursday which areas of the country will go into which tiers.
Government scientists have warned that Tier One restrictions proved ineffective last month.
As a result, tens of millions of people will be placed in tiers two and three where much tougher restrictions apply. In Tier Three, pubs and restaurants can only offer takeaway services, people are banned from overnight stays outside the home and travel outside the local area is frowned on.
Downing Street last night said that mass testing would be made available in all Tier Three areas to help them catch infections early and slow the spread of the virus.
Mr Johnson will unveil the details of the plans to MPs this afternoon. In a message overnight, he said the UK was ‘not out of the woods’, but suggested there were reasons for cautious optimism.
‘The selflessness of people in following the rules is making a difference,’ he 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.
‘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.’
The Government announced a further 341 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 54,626.
Will the lockdown continue?
No. Boris Johnson will confirm today the lockdown will end on December 2. It will be replaced by a system of regional restrictions in three tiers.
Will the tiers be the same as before?
No. The Government will revert to a three-tier system, but Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it will be ‘tougher’ than before the lockdown.
What were the tiers before?
Three tiers of restrictions operated in England. Tier One contained only national restrictions like the 10pm curfew and Rule of Six, under which gatherings of more than six people are illegal unless they are all from the same household or bubble. Tier Two added a ban on indoor socialising, while Tier Three restricted pubs and restaurants to providing a takeaway service and banned wedding receptions and overnight stays.
What will reopen when the lockdown ends?
Shops are expected to reopen to allow them some Christmas trade. Gyms will reopen and outdoor sport is likely to restart. Betting shops are likely to close in the higher tiers and hospitality venues will probably remain takeaway-only in parts of the country, with restrictions on houses mixing elsewhere.
Will I be able to see family and friends?
The Rule of Six will remain in place. Indoor socialising with other households will remain banned in the top two tiers and is likely to be restricted in the lowest tier as well.
What about Christmas?
Mr Johnson is pushing for a five-day break from the rules, during which time people from up to three different households would be allowed to mix.
How will they pick which tier my area goes into?
Ministers will announce on Thursday which tiers will apply to which parts of the country. The decision will depend on a range of factors, including the number of Covid cases, local NHS capacity and the local R-number – the rate at which the virus is spreading. But Government sources have said that ‘most people’ will be in the top two tiers.
Will 10pm curfew stay?
No. Pubs and restaurants will stop serving alcohol at 10pm, but customers will have until 11pm to drink up and leave.
How long will the new tier system last?
Government sources said it was expected to remain until spring.