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Hugs, holidays and cinema allowed from May 17, Boris Johnson confirms

·5-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Hugs, holidays and trips to the cinema will be allowed from next week, Boris Johnson has confirmed as he announced the easing of restrictions in England from Monday.

People will be able to meet and hug again for the first time in a year, as the Government gives the public the “choice” to decide whether or not to socially distance with close family and friends.

Pub-goers will be no longer have to sit outside in the rain as indoor dining returns along with the reopening of theatres and sports stadiums on May 17.

Meanwhile, secondary school and college students will no longer have to wear face masks as the data shows infection rates among pupils and staff continuing to decrease in line with community transmission. However, twice weekly home testing has to continue.

The “stay in the UK” restriction will also be lifted so people will be able to travel to countries on the green list - which currently includes Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel.

The Prime Minister called the changes a "considerable step on the road back to normality", as he made the announcements at a Downing Street press conference and comes as the country’s Covid alert level was lowered from four to three, paving the way for new freedoms.

Addressing the public, he said: “I want to thank you particularly because your efforts have so visibly paid off, giving us the time to vaccinate more than two thirds of all adults across the UK, with more than one third – nearly 18 million people – also receiving their second dose and thereby unquestionably saving many lives.

“And so it’s precisely because of your efforts that I can confirm today that we’ve met our four tests for further easing the lockdown in England.”

“With deaths and hospitalisations at their lowest level since last July and the UK’s four chief medical officers today agreeing a reduction in the alert level, the data now support moving to step three in England from next Monday, May 17.”

Data also shows infection rates are now at their lowest level since last September.

Allowed from May 17 in England:

  • Meet outdoors in groups of up to 30

  • Meet indoors in groups of up to six or two households

  • Most sectors to reopen including pubs, bars and restaurants indoors

  • Indoor entertainment to resume including cinemas, museums and children’s play areas

  • Theatres, concert halls, conference centres and sports stadiums can reopen. Large events in those venues allowed to resume with capacity limits

  • Organised adult sport and exercise classes can resume indoors

  • Saunas and steam rooms can reopen

  • Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can reopen

  • Domestic overnight stays allowed in groups of up to six or two households.

  • Weddings, receptions and other life events can take place with up to 30 people

  • Cap on funeral attendees lifted – in line with how many people can safely be accommodated in venue

  • 30 people allowed to attend support group or parent and child group (limit does not include children under five)

  • Care home residents can have up to five named visitors and more freedom to make visits out of the home

  • Face coverings for pupils no longer recommended in classrooms or communal areas in secondary schools and colleges

  • Remaining university students eligible to return to in person teaching

  • People will have choice on whether to socially distance with close family and friends

  • Travel allowed to “green list” countries

Although the Government is permitting hugging, they have stressed caution and still warn that personal contact remains a direct way of transmitting the disease.

Mr Johnson said the Government will update its guidance on close contact between friends and family on Monday.

The Prime Minister told the No 10 press conference that it would set out the risks involved so people could make their own choices.

“This doesn’t mean that we can suddenly throw caution to the winds. We all know that close contacts such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease,” he said.

“So I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones.”

Revellers will be able to enjoy a pint inside from May 17PA Wire
Revellers will be able to enjoy a pint inside from May 17PA Wire

He said people should consider whether people had had the vaccine – and if so if they had had the second dose – and whether there has been time for it to take effect.

Social distancing rules will also remain in place in adult social care, medical, retail, hospitality and business settings.

The road map remained on track for the next stage on June 21, Mr Johnson said, promising that later this month the Government would set out "what role there could be - if any - for certification and social distancing".

The Government has been reviewing whether Covid status certification, recording whether people have had a vaccine or negative test result, could be used to help open up businesses and Mr Johnson's comments could be a hint they are no longer a priority.

Mr Johnson said the current data indicated that it might be possible to scrap the "one-metre plus" rule, something which would greatly increase flexibility for businesses to increase capacity.

Meanwhile Professor Chris Whitty warned that it is not yet known whether the Indian variant could cause problems in autumn.

He said: “What we know is, with all the variants, that things can come out of a blue sky and you’re not expecting it and then something happens.”

Speaking about the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India, he said: “It has gone up very sharply and I think that’s a reason for us to be very careful about it.”

He said the current thinking is that it is “highly transmissible”, at least as transmissible as the B.1.1.7 variant (first detected in Kent) and possibly more but that is not yet known.

It comes as more than two thirds of all adults across the UK have been vaccinated - with more than 17 million people having received their second dose.

A further four people died were confirmed to have died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 on Monday, while there were a further 2,357 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in the UK.

The Government’s four tests for reopening include the vaccine programme continuing successfully, evidence that jabs are reducing hospitalisations and death, no risk of surging hospitalisations and an assessment of variants of concern.

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