New lockdown rules in England: public warned to embrace freedom not each other

Public told ‘it’s OK to say no’ amid concern over rule breakers

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People in England are being told to resist peer pressure to break Covid-19 rules as the country takes early steps out of lockdown.

For the first time in more than three months, people in groups of six, or two household households, will be allowed to meet outdoors.

The relaxation of the stay-at-home order means organised sports, such as football and cricket, will return.

Outdoor pools, tennis courts and golf courses will reopen just as warmer weather is forecast to hit England this week.

New lockdown rules

  • What is changing?
  • People can meet outdoors in a group of six from any number of households, or in a group of any size from two households only
  • People can take in formal organised outdoor sports with any number of people, with outdoor sports venues allowed to reopen
  • Childcare and supervised activities allowed outdoors for all children
  • Organised parent and child groups can take place outdoors for up to 15 attendees (children under five will not be counted in this number)

Fearing a resurgence of the virus, government officials will tell the public "it's OK to say no" to those pressuring them to break the rules by meeting in larger groups.

There are also concerns people could revert to meeting indoors as the weather cools towards the weekend.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to remain cautious as new variants of coronavirus still posed a threat.

“I know many will welcome the increased social contact, with groups of six or two households also able to meet outdoors. But we must remain cautious, with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout,” he said.

“Despite today’s easements, everyone must continue to stick to the rules – remember hands, face, space – and come forward for a vaccine when called.”

Prof Dame Anne Johnson from University College London said it was important lockdown was not lifted too quickly, especially given the worsening third wave of infection in Europe.

"People shouldn't mix indoors. That's going to be the biggest risk," she told BBC's Radio 4 Today programme.

"The longer the contact and the closer you are, the more likely [you are] to get transmission."

Tourism minister Nigel Huddleston poured cold water on the prospect of foreign holidays this summer.

"Remember you can have a holiday in the UK as well and I encourage people to do that and plan for that as well,” he told Sky News.

“We do want to open up as soon as we can. That goes for domestic and indeed international [travel], but we’ll do so cautiously based on the evidence and we’ll keep a very close eye on what’s happening in both the EU and elsewhere around the world.”

New Covid slogan emphasises fresh air 

A new slogan – Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air – was unveiled by the government to emphasise the importance of ventilation in reducing the spread of the virus.

A new government advertising campaign will urge the public to “take the next steps safely”, with people being told not to resist pressure to hug, sit closer than two metres away from others outdoors or to meet indoors.

Sir Mark Walport, a former chief scientific adviser, said it would be safe to hug only when case numbers are “very, very low”.

“At the end of the day the virus gets from one person to another by proximity and proximity can happen outside as well,” he told Times Radio. “We’re also learning more about the effectiveness of the vaccine every day at the moment - as more and more people get the vaccine then we will learn from the numbers.”

The Metropolitan Police warned officers made “no apology for our tough stance on shutting down large gatherings”.

Non-essential retail is scheduled to reopen on April 12, when restaurants can serve food outdoors.

The message of caution from the government comes as Britain on Sunday passed the milestone of giving the first vaccine dose to more than 30 million adults.

On Sunday, the number of new daily Covid-19 cases dropped to 3,768, the lowest since mid-September.

Covid situation in Europe worsens

However, the mood was grim across the English Channel.

A snowballing of cases in France intensified pressure on health infrastructure with top officials warning on Sunday that Paris hospitals may be forced to turn patients away.

"In 10 days, 15 days or three weeks we may be overwhelmed," senior Paris hospitals official Remi Salomon told BFMTV.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel pleaded with state governments to stop straying from agreed pandemic measures with her government under pressure over a sluggish vaccine campaign and testing delays.

Germany's disease control agency warned of an "exponential" growth in cases.

Despite the warnings, Ms Merkel insisted Germany still compared well with most of its neighbours, as evidenced by this vaccination rate comparison chart.

“Perhaps we’re very perfectionist at times and want to do everything right, because obviously whoever makes a mistake always faces quite a lot of public criticism,” she said.

“But there needs to be flexibility, too. That, I believe, is an attribute that we as Germans perhaps need to learn a little bit more, alongside our tendency toward perfectionism.”

She urged Germans not to become overwhelmed by despair. “We have a difficult situation,” she said. “But look at our neighbours – with the exception of Denmark they are all grappling with the same problems, in part from a much more difficult position.”

Lockdown rules loosened in England - in pictures