Hugging is back but think twice before you embrace it

PM Boris Johnson strikes note of caution as he announces easing of England's Covid restrictions

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that people in England can hug friends and family as the success of the Covid-19 vaccine drive allows the next stage of lockdown easing to proceed.

Mr Johnson confirmed that indoor service can resume at hospitality venues, while groups of six will be allowed to meet inside each other’s homes.

But he warned people not to abandon all caution as the lockdown conditions were lifted.

"Your efforts have so visibly paid off," he said, addressing the country at a news conference. "I can confirm today that we have met our four tests for easing the lockdown in England.”

“The data now supports moving to step three of easing lockdown.”

Mr Johnson said the move was the "single biggest step in our roadmap" to ending lockdown restrictions.

Hotels, cinemas and theatres can reopen, and the ban on group exercise and overnight stays with people from different households will similarly be lifted. All the changes will take effect on May 17.

The latest lockdown easing measures come after Britain’s recent successes in its fight against the pandemic. Infection and hospital admission rates are dramatically down.

“This doesn’t mean we can suddenly throw caution to the wind. More than a year into the pandemic we know close contact such as hugging is a direct way to spread disease. Think about that person’s vulnerability. Have they had two doses of a vaccine?” the prime minister said.

Mental Health Minister Nadine Dorries said allowing friends and family to hug again for the first time in a year would boost people’s well-being.

“Most people have missed that intimate contact with family and friends,” she told Sky News on Monday.

“We’ve been really concerned about people being isolated, not having that contact with family and friends, we can’t underestimate how important it is.”

More than 35.4 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while more than 17.8 million are fully vaccinated with two doses, government figures showed.

The number of new cases reported on Monday was 2,357, and there were four deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.

“The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us,” Mr Johnson said.

“The roadmap remains on track, our successful vaccination programme continues – more than two thirds of adults in the UK have now had the first vaccine – and we can now look forward to unlocking cautiously but irreversibly.”

The reopening of the economy in England has so far followed the pace Mr Johnson originally set out when his roadmap was revealed in February.

"I'm pretty certain our city centres will have bustle again," Mr Johnson said.

The government has allowed five weeks between each stage of the plan to monitor any spike in the infection rate.

Final data checks on the last easing measure – the reopening of non-essential shops and outdoor hospitality – will take place this week.

Mr Johnson said on Friday that the variant of coronavirus first detected in India must be “handled carefully” because scientists believe it could be on par with the strain detected in England in terms of transmissibility.

Meanwhile, the South African variant was detected in the North Kensington area in London, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

UK lockdown easing - what freedoms are restored on May 17?

If there is no spike in the virus, it is expected:

  • Hugging between friends and family can take place
  • People can meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors
  • Six people or two households can meet indoors
  • Overnight stays allowed with people not in your household or bubble
  • Restaurants and other hospitality venues can seat customers indoors
  • Up to 30 people can attend weddings and more than 30 can attend funerals
  • Museums, theatres and cinemas can open
  • Performances and large events can restart, with limits on audience numbers
  • Hotels, hostels and B&Bs can reopen
  • International trips allowed
  • Exercise classes can restart

More on coronavirus:

Romanian 'Dracula's castle' lures in tourists with free Covid-19 vaccines

Spaniards celebrate lifting of Covid-19 curfew with 'freedom fiestas'

UAE ambassador: UK travel announcement is 'disappointing for families'

Updated: May 10, 2021 10:00 PM

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