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Strengthened tier system for England after lockdown

From BBC NEWS

A tougher three-tiered system of local restrictions will come into force in England when the lockdown ends on 2 December, Downing Street has said.

Boris Johnson is expected to set out his plan - including details of how families can see different households at Christmas - to MPs on Monday.

More areas are set to be placed into the higher tiers to keep the virus under control, No 10 said.

And some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard lockdown progress.

Some local measures will be the same as those in the previous three-tier system, which was in place in England until the current lockdown began.

But the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is expected to publish research on Monday saying the previous restrictions were not strong enough.

The government will identify the tiers that each area will be placed into on Thursday.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the BBC's Andrew Marr the 10pm closing time for pubs and restaurants was one of the things it was looking to "refine".

It is understood rules will be relaxed to give people an extra hour to finish their food and drinks after last orders at 10pm.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said this would help businesses - but would be "meaningless" unless people were allowed to socialise with friends and family, particularly over the crucial Christmas period.

Newspaper reports suggest rules could be temporarily relaxed UK-wide over Christmas. Several families could be allowed to join in one "bubble" and mix between 22 and 28 December, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Ministers have made clear the festive season will be different to normal - with some restrictions expected to remain in place.

BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley said conversations about Christmas between the different nations of the UK were ongoing.

Sources believe a deal is probable later next week - but it is unlikely to be signed off before the prime minister's announcement on Monday.

The four nations have different Covid rules but ministers are hoping to agree a joint approach for the festive period.

Prof Calum Semple, from the University of Liverpool, said he hoped it would be possible to relax rules over Christmas if the new tiered system worked but warned "there will be a price", including tighter restrictions in the future.

However, Prof Semple, who is a member of Sage, told Sky News's Sophy Ridge there was "a lot to be optimistic about".

He said he expected mass vaccination of the general population to happen towards next summer, which would give "broad immunity" and allow a "return back to normal".

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