UK set for hugs, indoor dining as COVID curbs further relaxed

Restrictions to be loosened in line with government plan as vaccinations drive down cases.

People have been allowed to eat and drink outside since the first relaxation of rules in April [File: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP]

England will move ahead with plans to ease further COVID-19 restrictions on May 17, including allowing people to hug and meet indoors, thanks to favourable data on infections and vaccines, the government said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a news conference on Monday afternoon to announce the details of the third step in the United Kingdom’s “roadmap” out of the crisis, following discussions with colleagues and advisers in the morning.

“The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us,” Johnson said, according to a Downing Street statement.

“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 country is in the process of gradually lifting its latest lockdown across a period of months, in line with a four-step plan unveiled in February.

It took its first step out of lockdown in April when hairdressers and shops re-opened, and people were allowed to dine outside in small groups.

Under the next step, dining and drinking indoors at pubs, cafes and restaurants will also be allowed, subject to certain rules, while family and friends will be able to meet up indoors for the first time in a month – in groups of up to six people or two full households together.

Johnson is also expected to say that people can hug friends and family outside their households for the first time in more than a year, according to the Times newspaper.

Test events have been held to help guide the organisation of post-pandemic events [Paul Ellis/AFP]

Cinemas and theatres will also reopen, as will some other large indoor venues after the government held several pilot events to test safety measures. Hotels will also be able to take guests.

On Sunday, the UK announced a total of 1,770 new coronavirus cases and two deaths, well below the peaks seen in January.

More than 127,000 people have died of coronavirus in the UK, the highest toll in Europe.

Downing Street said the latest data on COVID-19 vaccinations, infections, hospitalisations and deaths, and on the risk posed by new variants had been taken into account in deciding to move forward.

Semi-autonomous administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own separate timetables for easing coronavirus restrictions.

The UK government had already confirmed last week that international travel would be allowed to resume on May 17, but severe restrictions will remain in place for all but a handful of countries.

Source: News Agencies