PM urges Britons to be ‘jolly careful’ as UK leaders devise Christmas plan

Conservative Party 2019 General Election campaign advert which features Boris Johnson emulating a scene from Love Actually. Credit: PA

Christmas during the Covid crisis will be the season to be “jolly careful”, Boris Johnson has warned.

The Prime Minister is in ongoing talks to thrash out a plan with the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the hope of allowing families to reunite.

A meeting of the government’s Cobra committee will be held at 4pm on Tuesday with representatives from all four UK nations to discuss plans for Christmas, sources said.

The Prime Minister was unable on Monday to confirm details of how people across the UK would be able to spend the festive period.

ITV News' Political Editor Robert Peston understands a five-day easing of the rules with allow for up to three families to spend the Christmas period together.

Mr Johnson confirmed in a press briefing on Monday, however, that England will return to a regional tier system from December 2.

Details of which areas will be in which tiers will not be set out until Thursday.

The government has also announced that travellers arriving in England will be able to end their quarantine period with a negative Covid test after five days from December 15.

It comes at a cost, however, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirming passengers who arrive from a destination not on the government’s travel corridors list can reduce the 14-day period by paying for a test from a private firm after five days at a cost of £65-£120.

In a press conference on Monday evening, Mr Johnson said “we’re not out of the woods yet” despite a breakthrough with a British vaccine, warning that the UK faced a “hard” start to 2021 but that he expected “things will look and feel very different” after Easter.

Watch Monday's Covid briefing in full:

He said that with a “favourable wind” the majority of people most in need of a vaccination might be able to get one by April, as the Oxford-AstraZeneca team said its jab had proved up to 90% effective.

It follows positive results from Pfizer and Moderna, but none of the jabs have yet been approved for use.

Mr Johnson, speaking via videolink at a Downing Street press conference as he continues his self-isolation, said: “We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill but they are not here yet.

“Even if all three vaccines are approved, even if the production timetables are met – and vaccines notoriously fall behind in their production timetables – it will be months before we can be sure we have inoculated everyone that needs a vaccine.”

He warned that it is “not the moment to let the virus rip for the sake of Christmas parties”, saying: “Tis the season to be jolly, but it is also the season to be jolly careful, especially with elderly relatives.”

Mr Johnson said the months ahead “will be hard, they will be cold, they include January and February when the NHS is under its greatest pressure”.

That pressure meant new tiers had to be introduced from December 2, replacing England’s lockdown, with more areas facing tougher restrictions than under the previous regional regime.

What can you do in each tier from December 2? The new rules in England at a glance:

  • Tier 1: Up to six people can meet indoors or outdoors. Pubs and restaurants can open, with last orders at 10pm and closing at 11pm.

  • Tier 2: No mixing indoors, apart from support bubbles. Up to six people can meet outdoors. Pubs and restaurants can open, with last orders at 10pm and closing at 11pm - but alcohol can only be served with a substantial meal.

  • Tier 3: No mixing indoors. People can only meet outdoors in limited places such as parks and public gardens. Pubs and restaurants must close, with the exception of takeaway sales.

In all tiers, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and personal care services can open.

People in all tiers to work from home where they can do so. Full details on what you can do in each tier here.

As well as the progress on vaccines, Mr Johnson pointed to the expansion of rapid mass testing as a way of returning to something approaching normality.

Mass quick turnaround testing has been taking place in Liverpool over recent weeks. Credit: PA images.

This could include greater freedoms for people who test negative and the prospect of daily tests replacing precautionary self-isolation for people who come into contact with an infected person.

While retailers welcomed the announcement that they will be allowed to reopen, there was fury in the hospitality and arts industries.

Kate Nicholls, of trade body UKHospitality, said: “Sadly, for many staff, it will be a Christmas out of work.”