England’s second lockdown will be over by Christmas but the tiered system could be made tougher as a result, Chis Whitty has said.
It comes as hopes of a coronavirus vaccine being available before the festive period were boosted with an expert saying there is a "small chance".
England is on the eve of a second national lockdown with businesses working from home for the best part of a month and all-but-essential stores closing until December 2.
Professor Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, said he was confident the R rate will drop below one by December 2 – meaning the virus is shrinking rather than spreading.
That would be a landmark for the government and offer a green light for restrictions to be loosened.
Giving evidence to the Science and Technology Committee, Prof Whitty said: "The aim of the whole thing is that R is not greater than one.
"I do think it is sensible to see how we go on this but I have quite a lot of faith in the adherence of the general public that would lead to the R reducing.
"That’s what I anticipate and that’s what all the data shows. People intend to do this and I am expecting that the R will drop."
MPs voted on Wednesday to enforce a lockdown until December 2 and Boris has promised cabinet colleagues that it will not be extended.
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Instead, the Prime Minister wants to return England to the tiered system – with one being the loosest, and three the toughest coronavirus restrictions.
Professor Whitty added: "I think that the Prime Minister would probably want us to look at whether there should be variations on exactly the same tiering system, rather than just assuming we would just revert to an absolutely identical one."
It comes as the head of the Oxford vaccine trial team revealed he had a "small hope" that the vital jab could be available before Christmas.
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From December, GPs will be put on standby should this happen, the chief executive of the NHS had said.
Professor Andrew Pollard, who heads the trial team, said he was optimistic data showing his team's vaccine works and is safe will be available by the end of the year.
However, he all but quashed the idea that it would be rolled out to the most vulnerable before the festive period.
"I'm optimistic that we could reach that point before the end of this year," Mr Pollard said of presenting the trial results.
Asked if the vaccine would be ready by Christmas he said: "There is a small chance."
The death toll rose again in the UK by 492 on Wednesday, the highest daily rise since May.
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