New Covid rules to allow families to meet up at Christmas and pubs to serve food

Boris Johnson is to allow families to meet up at Christmas for five days, but pubs will have to serve meals to big groups with booze to stay open.

The Prime Minister's plans for 'festive bubbles' will allow three households to mix for five days over the festive period, it is reported tonight.

Meanwhile, it is expected that next month high street stores will open to allow shoppers to grab Christmas presents.

But pubs will only be allowed to serve drinks if people are eating meals in groups and customers must stay in their 'festive bubbles' household groups and not mingle with other households.

There is expected to be a 'Christmas exemption' across all four UK nations between December 23 and December 27, reports ITV News.

The plans still have to be ironed out with officials in Belfast wanting a consensus with Dublin.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to set out the basis of plans for the festive period on Monday, as well as detailing a new tougher three-tier system for England when its national lockdown ends on December 2.

But Mr Johnson will be unable to say how many households will be allowed to mix over Christmas and for how many days restrictions will be relaxed for until a later date, the PA news agency understands.

However The Sun reports that the ban on household mixing in Tiers 2 and 3 will likely be lifted for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day through to the delayed Boxing Day Bank Holiday on December 28.

And in Tier 1, the “Rule of Six” is set to be suspended to allow bigger groups to celebrate.

Gyms will also be able to open across the country.

Meanwhile, the Sun reports all shops will be allowed to open in the run-up to Christmas.

And the hated 10pm pub curfew is to be scrapped, with an hour of drinking and eating up time allowed until 11pm.

The tiers each area will be placed in will be announced on Thursday, reports Mirror Online.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove met with leaders of the devolved administrations over the weekend when they "endorsed a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days".

But the public will be "advised to remain cautious" and told that "wherever possible people should avoid travelling and minimise social contact", a statement from his department said.

The Cabinet Office said talks are continuing to finalise the agreement, including over travel arrangements, but that it is hoped the conclusion will come "this week", while the Scottish Government said "no agreement has been reached".

Mr Johnson will detail the strengthened tiered system in a statement to the House of Commons, where he will appear virtually from Downing Street as he is continuing to self-isolate after coming into contact with an MP who later tested positive for Covid-19.

But the full details of the festive relaxation are not expected until after the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agree the plans with their own cabinets.

Mr Johnson is facing the threat of a backbench revolt to his "winter Covid plan" for England after dozens of Conservative MPs warned they could not back further restrictions without extensive evidence.

Downing Street said more areas are expected to enter higher tiers next month while those tiers will be strengthened to safeguard the gains made during the four-week lockdown.

The Prime Minister was warned in a letter by the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), said by a source close to the group to be signed by 70 Tory MPs, that he will have to provide a cost-benefit analysis to show the restrictions "will save more lives than they cost".

But in one move likely to be welcomed by Conservative rebels, Chancellor Rishi Sunak confirmed to The Andrew Marr Show on the BBC that plans to change the curfew period for pubs and restaurants in England is "definitely something we're looking at".

The Prime Minister is understood to be preparing to unveil a plan so that while last orders must be called at 10pm, people will get an extra hour to finish their food and drinks, with opening hours to be extended until 11pm.

Sage member Professor Calum Semple told Sky's Sophy Ridge "in reality we can't ban Christmas" because it would "simply lead to breaches".

He said any change to the 10pm curfew would be better informed by an understanding of human behaviour to prevent everyone filling the streets at closing time.

Sage colleague Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter said it is "perfectly reasonable" to return to a tiered approach but warned a national easing over Christmas will have costs.

"There will be a price to pay for it, obviously, you relax restrictions and infection rates go up, you constrain and infection rates will come down as they are going down at the moment," he told Times Radio.

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