'No return to normal' after United Kingdom lockdown

A sign selling Christmas trees is seen at the Cambridge Market Square as the spread of the coronavirus disease continues in Cambridge Britain

"It of course won't be like a normal Christmas".

Northern Ireland will enter a two-week circuit-breaker next Friday and Scotland has placed two million people in its toughest level of restrictions for three weeks. How can they know that when we haven't even decided exactly what the restrictions should be?'

The announcement of the plans - which will allow families to spend up to seven days together - is expected to come next week.

What else could be allowed under the plans?

Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is understood to have pushed for the freedoms to be introduced several days before Christmas, starting on December 22, to allow pubs and restaurants to enjoy some "normal days" of trade before the holiday.

But sales of mistletoe will not be banned, Downing Street insisted.

What could happen down the line if households are allowed to mix over Christmas?

"It is quite plausible that a few days of relaxing would lead to tens of thousands of more cases and that means extra deaths and measures needed to bring those under control", he said.

Ministers are examining a series of options to relax restrictions around Christmas.

Mr Hancock said the second peak of the virus is "flattening" but urged the public to "keep our resolve" for the rest of the lockdown to keep cases down. The PM wants to reintroduce regional restrictions but it is not yet clear if the previous system will be reintroduced or if measures will be beefed up.

Does everyone agree on this?

Warning that infection rates will pick up again if the public ignores any guidelines put in place around Christmas, he said there is a "dual responsibility" for people to follow the rules set out by the Government.

The Professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University College London (UCL) told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, "Mixing at Christmas does pose substantial risks, particularly in terms of bringing together generations with high incidence of infection with the older generations who now have much lower levels of infection and are at most risk of dying if they catch Covid".

"There is no magic number about how many days it is going to cost us", Prof Van-Tam told the No 10 press conference.

Will social distancing and other rules count at Christmas?

"We have to give people hope", said one minister.

The ONS said infection rates have continued to increase in London, the east of England and the south east, but appear to be decreasing in the north west and the East Midlands.

The country will be put under Level 3 restrictions once the second national lockdown comes to an end on December 1.

England's lockdown is due to end on December 2, although ministers have not ruled out that it could be extended.

The PM has said openly he wants to return to the tiered system, but it's likely that will need to be beefed up.

With the number of new cases now remaining high, contingencies are being considered, including a drop to Level 4.

"The best time for the Government to make that decision is as close to December 2 as possible".

Whether businesses will be allowed to open when the rules are eased remains to be seen.

Meanwhile Mr Hancock said he is increasingly hopeful of some kind of normality by spring, as he confirmed the UK's health regulator is assessing a coronavirus vaccine which could potentially be rolled out next month.

What about care homes and Christmas?

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has suggested that if lockdowns are relaxed over Christmas that hugging family and friends could be banned as some social distancing rules will still be in place.

People can travel for work and there are exemptions for overnights and second homes for work purposes.

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