England will enter a stricter three-tiered system of coronavirus restrictions when the national lockdown ends on 2 December, Downing Street has confirmed.
Boris Johnson is expected to reveal his plan for winter – including how families can mix with different households at Christmas – to MPs on Monday.
As part of the prime minister’s “Covid winter plan”, more areas are expected to be placed into the highest tiers of measures in an attempt to keep the virus under control.
Some tiers will be strengthened to safeguard the progress made during the lockdown, although No 10 has not yet detailed how these measures will change.
It is understood the 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants will be extended but that people will given an extra hour to finish the drinks and food they have already purchased.
The cabinet is expected to discuss and finalise the plan on Sunday before Johnson announces it to parliament.
Ministers have already signalled that some restrictions are expected to remain in place during the festive period. The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is set to publish research on Monday suggesting that measures in the previous tiered system were not strong enough.
Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that there was some good news on the rate of infection and the number of cases coming down.
He said: “Nationally we are seeing cases in the community fall and in those areas that went into tier 3 before lockdown we are already seeing the tide turning with the number of hospital admissions and we will shortly see the deaths reduce as well.”
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “Everyone’s efforts during the current national restrictions have helped bring the virus back under control, slowed its spread and eased pressures on the NHS.
“But the prime minister and his scientific advisers are clear the virus is still present – and without regional restrictions it could quickly run out of control again before vaccines and mass testing have had an effect.
“That would put in jeopardy the progress the country has made, and once again risk intolerable pressure on the NHS.”
Reports have suggested that under the plan, several families may be allowed to join one “bubble” in order to see loved ones over the Christmas period between 22 and 28 December.
On Thursday, the government will set out which tier each area will be placed into, with MPs expected to be given the vote to approve the new system in the days before it comes into force on 2 December.
It is optimistic that restrictions could be eased gradually in the run-up to spring if Covid vaccines are approved by regulators, allowing for the rollout to begin next month before a wider vaccination programme begins in the new year.
The plans emerged as the government announced a further 341 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK death tally to 54,626.
The prime minister will be wary of a rebellion from backbench Conservative MPs who are opposed to new restrictions. During a vote on the four-week lockdown earlier this month, 32 Conservatives rebelled to oppose the measures and a further 17, including the former prime minister Theresa May, abstained.
Subsequently, the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) led by the former chief whip Mark Harper, and ex-Brexit minister Steve Baker, formed to resist new measures. The CRG said on Saturday that they “cannot support” a tiered approach unless the government produced evidence to show measures “will save more lives than they cost”.
In a letter to the prime minister, the CRG warned against the measures inflicting “huge health and economic costs”, which sources close to the group said had been signed by 70 Conservative MPs, though the group’s leaders were the only signatories identified.
A full-scale Commons defeat is unlikely, with Labour so far in support of the need for restrictions to slow the spread of the virus. But in a speech ahead of the Downing Street announcement, the shadow chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, said England could not be allowed to return “to the shambles we had before this lockdown” and called for “clarity” on economic support.
Separately, Greater Manchester business leaders, including the former Manchester United footballer Gary Neville, will launch a campaign on Monday to drive footfall back to the city centre following the lockdown.
UnitedCity will commission independent research providing data and messaging around Covid safety in the workplace, in hospitality venues and on public transport.