People in England will be able to enjoy a pint or a meal indoors, hug their loved ones and return to cinemas – but not dance at weddings – in a week’s time as Boris Johnson confirmed the latest easing of England’s COVID lockdown.
The prime minister has said the country will proceed to step three of his roadmap for lifting restrictions from Monday, 17 May.
Number 10 highlighted how latest data showed infection rates to now be at their lowest level since last September, while deaths and hospitalisations are at their lowest level since last July.
And, speaking at a Downing Street news conference, Mr Johnson said the latest unlocking “amounts to a very considerable step on the road back to normality”.
Under the latest easing of lockdown restrictions from next Monday:
• People in England will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30 people; and meet indoors in groups of up to six people, or as two households. Children of any age, including babies, will count towards the limit of six people indoors
• People will have the choice whether to socially distance with close family and friends they are meeting up with. But they are urged to remain cautious about the risks of hugging
• Secondary schools and colleges will no longer require pupils to wear masks in classrooms or communal areas
• All university students will be able to return to in-person teaching
• Pubs, bars and restaurants will be able to serve people indoors, while cinemas, museums and indoor children’s play areas will reopen
• Theatres, concert venues, conference centres and sports stadiums can reopen, albeit with limits on the size of audiences and crowds
• Adult sports can resume indoors and saunas and steam rooms can reopen
• People will be allowed to stay overnight somewhere else in the UK in groups of up to six people, or two households
• People will be able to travel abroad to those countries on the “green list”
• Weddings, receptions and other life events will be allowed to take place with up to 30 people
• The cap on the number of people allowed to attend funerals will be lifted, in line with how many people can be safely accommodated in venues
• Care home residents will be able to have up to five named visitors and allowed greater freedoms to make visits out of their homes
On the new rules on hugging family and friends, Mr Johnson said the country was “taking a step toward that moment when we learn to live responsibly with COVID” and “when we cease eventually to rely on detailed government edicts and make our own decisions – based on the best scientific advice – about how to protect our families and those around us”.
But he warned this does not mean “we can suddenly throw caution to the winds”.
“In fact, more than a year into this pandemic, we all know that close contact, such as hugging, is a direct way of transmitting this disease,” the prime minister added.
“So I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones – whether they have had a vaccine, one or two doses, and whether there has been time for that vaccine to take effect.
“Remember outdoors is always safer than indoors. And, if you are meeting indoors, remember to open a window and let in the fresh air.”
Mr Johnson also urged people to continue to follow social distancing when not with friends and family, such as in offices, shops, pubs and restaurants.
“We only have to look at the very sad situation in other countries to see the lethal potential of this virus and we must continue to fight the spread of variants here in the UK,” he said.
“While we have no evidence yet to believe these variants are completely vaccine resistant, we must remain vigilant.”
Despite the further easing of restrictions on the number of guests allowed at weddings, Downing Street said people in England will not be allowed to dance at weddings.
Standing at the bar in pubs will also continue to be banned, with the one-metre plus rule still in operation within hospitality venues.
And Downing Street said it was a “matter for personal judgement” as to whether people took a lateral flow test before hugging friends and family, while people are encouraged to continue working from home where possible.
Number 10 also said they had “no plans” to allow Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr this week any exemptions to the current rules, prior to the easing next Monday.
Before Christmas, Mr Johnson had proposed allowing families greater freedom to mix together over the festive period; although he later was forced to scale down those plans – and scrap them entirely for many in the South East – following the discovery of the Kent variant of the virus.
The prime minister confirmed the move to step three of his roadmap for lifting restrictions after cabinet ministers agreed the plan at a meeting earlier on Monday.
Mr Johnson used the meeting to restate his aim to ensure that changes to COVID restrictions are both “cautious” but “irreversible”.
The next stage of the prime minister’s roadmap for removing lockdown rules is due to take place no earlier than 21 June, when the government hopes to be able to “remove all legal limits on social contact”.
An announcement will come a week before 21 June as to whether restrictions will be eased as planned under step four.
The government has also promised a review of social-distancing measures prior to step four, including on the one-metre plus rule and face masks.
The review will also consider the guidance on people continuing to work from home where they can.