London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday confirmed that the complete stay-at-home lockdown in England will end on December 2, from when a tough new COVID Winter Plan will kick in to last until at least March 2021.
Addressing the House of Commons via videolink from Downing Street in London, where he continues to self-isolate after contact with an MP who later tested positive for COVID-19, Johnson began by praising "the scientific cavalry" which has offered vaccine hopes to eventually make lockdown "redundant". But he stressed that it is important not to "squander all our gains" from the past few weeks of lockdown with a "free for all".
"From next Wednesday people will be able to leave their homes for any purpose and meet other people in public places, subject to the rule of six," said Johnson.
"I am sorry to say we expect that more regions will fall at least temporarily into higher levels than before," he said, in reference to a tougher tiered system.
From the middle of next week, shops, personal care, gyms and churches can reopen as part of a bolstered three-tiered system. As part of the restrictions, people will be expected to continue to work from home if they live in a Tier 1 region; in Tier 2, alcohol can only be served with a meal; and in Tier 3, all forms of hospitality except takeaways will have to close.
The 10 pm curfew for bars and restaurants will now change to last orders at 10 pm, with closing time at 11 pm. Sports will be allowed to resume with spectators in the first two less strict tiers, with capacity limits and social distancing, including a similar approach for theatres and concert halls.
The parliamentary speech comes as Oxford University announced promising Phase 3 results from its vaccine candidate being developed with AstraZeneca, in reference to which Johnson said: "For the first time since this wretched virus took hold we can see a route out of the pandemic."
As for which specific tiers the different regions would fall under, Johnson said he hopes to be able to confirm by this Thursday, depending on how cases of COVID-19 are falling or rising. These tier allocations will then be reviewed every 14 days, with the wider region-wise approach will last until March next year.
While lockdown measures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland continue to be decided by the devolved administrations, Johnson said that he would set out plans for "a time limited Christmas dispensation embracing the whole of the UK" in the coming days. He, however, earned that the deadly virus would not "grant a Christmas truce".
"Christmas cannot be normal and there is a long road to spring but we have turned a corner and the escape route is in sight," he said.
He added that the mass testing pilot scheme from the city Liverpool will now be rolled out more widely and those who test negative will be offered the prospect of fewer restrictions.
The Opposition Labour Party Leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said they would await the full details of the plans.
The UK's death toll from COVID-19 stands at 55,024, after 398 new victims across all settings over the weekend.