By maintaining the pressure on the virus, we can also enable people to see more of their family and friends over Christmas.
Mr Speaker, I can’t say that Christmas will be normal this year, but in a period of adversity, time spent with loved ones is even more precious for people of all faiths and none.
We all want some kind of Christmas, we need it, we certainly feel we deserve it. But what we don’t want is to throw caution to the winds and allow the virus to flare up again, forcing us all back into lockdown in January.
So to allow families to come together, while minimising the risk, we are working with the Devolved Administrations on a special, time-limited Christmas dispensation, embracing the whole of the United Kingdom, and reflecting the ties of kinship across our islands.
But this virus is obviously not going to grant us a Christmas truce, it doesn’t know it’s Christmas Mr Speaker and families will need to make a careful judgement about the risk of visiting elderly relatives.
We will be publishing guidance for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable on how to manage the risks in each tier, as well as over Christmas.
As we work to suppress the virus with these local tiers, two scientific breakthroughs will ultimately make these restrictions obsolete.
As soon as a vaccine is approved, we will dispense it as quickly as possible.
But given that this cannot be done immediately, we will simultaneously use rapid turnaround testing, the lateral flow testing that gives results within 30 minutes, to identify those without symptoms so they can isolate and avoid transmission.
We are beginning to deploy these tests in our NHS and in care homes in England, so people will once again be able to hug and hold hands with loved ones, instead of waving at them through a window.
By the end of the year, this will allow every care home resident to have two visitors, who can be tested twice a week.
Care workers looking after people in their own homes will be offered weekly tests from today.
And from next month, weekly tests will also be available to staff in prisons, food manufacturing, and those delivering and administering Covid vaccines.
We are also using testing as the House knows to help schools and universities stay open, and testing will enable students to know they can go home safely for Christmas and indeed back from home to university.
But there is another way of using these rapid tests, and that is to follow the example of Liverpool, where in the last two and a half weeks over 200,000 people have taken part in community testing, contributing to a very substantial fall in infections.
So together with NHS Test and Trace and our fantastic Armed Forces, we will now launch a major community testing programme, offering all local authorities in tier 3 areas in England a six week surge of testing.
The system is untried and there are of course many unknowns, but if it works, we should be able to offer those who test negative the prospect of fewer restrictions,
for example, meeting up in certain places with others who have also tested negative.
And those towns and regions which engage in community testing will have a much greater chance of easing the rules, the tiering, that they currently endure.
Mr Speaker, we will also use daily testing to ease another restriction that has impinged on many lives.
We will seek to end automatic isolation for close contacts of those found positive.
Beginning in Liverpool later this week, contacts who are tested every day for a week will only need to isolate if they themselves test positive.
If successful, this approach will be extended across the health system next month, and to the whole of England from January.
And, of course, we are working with the Devolved Administrations to ensure that Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland also benefit as they should and will from these advances in rapid testing.
But clearly the most hopeful advance of all is how vaccines are now edging ever closer to liberating us from the virus, demonstrating emphatically that this is not a pandemic without end.
We can take heart from today’s news, which has the makings of a wonderful British scientific achievement.
The vaccine developed with astonishing speed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is now one of three capable of delivering a period of immunity. We don’t yet know when any will be ready and licensed, but we have ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, and over 350 million in total, more than enough for everyone in the UK, the Crown Dependencies and the Overseas Territories.
And the NHS is preparing a nationwide immunisation programme, ready next month, the like of which we have never witnessed.