England Lockdown Easing Gets the Go-Ahead With Majority of Adults Vaccinated

People in England will be able to hug close family and friends and meet indoors at pubs, restaurants and cinemas from next week, in the next phase of relaxing pandemic lockdown rules.

Hugging will be a matter of personal choice when people are allowed to meet indoors as a group of six or as two households from May 17. But social-distancing rules will remain in place for shops, pubs, restaurants and offices -- as will government guidance on working from home if possible.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pressing ahead with his “road map” for lifting lockdown, after a dramatic fall in Covid-19 cases across the U.K. in recent months as vaccines were rolled out. Infection rates are the lowest since September, according to his office, and deaths and hospitalizations are at their lowest level since July.

“Today we are announcing the single biggest step on our road map and it will allow us to do many of the things we’ve yearned to do for a long time,” Johnson said at a televised press conference in London on Monday. “So let’s protect these gains by continuing to exercise caution and common sense.”

England Lockdown Easing Gets the Go-Ahead With Majority of Adults Vaccinated

Hours earlier, the four U.K. chief medical officers downgraded the Covid-19 alert level from four to three, meaning that the epidemic is in “general circulation” but transmission is no longer high or rising exponentially.

‘Cautious, Irreversible’

Johnson has said the country is on course for the government to fully end the lockdown on June 21, with all legal limits on social contact removed. He has vowed to take a “cautious but irreversible” approach.

He said on Monday “it looks to me” from the data that “we may be able to dispense with the one meter plus rule” but this had not yet been decided. The government will say more later this month on what role there could be for Covid certification and social distancing, he said.

Next week’s changes mean that indoor entertainment such as theaters, museums and children’s play areas can reopen, and larger events at sports stadiums and conference centers can go ahead. Domestic overnight stays will be allowed, with all hotels able to reopen.

Relaxations of Coronavirus Rules Starting May 17
  • Groups of six, or two households allowed to meet indoors
  • Groups of 30 allowed to meet outdoors
  • Social-distancing rules dropped for those groups
  • Pubs, bars and restaurants allowed to re-open indoors
  • Indoor entertainment such as cinemas, museums to resume
  • Theaters, concert halls, sports stadiums, conference centers can reopen for larger events -- with capacity limits
  • Organized adult sports and exercise classes can resume indoors
  • Accommodation including hotels, hostels can reopen
  • Cap lifted on number of funeral attendees
  • Holidays allowed to countries on government’s green list
  • All remaining university students can go back to in-person teaching
  • Face coverings no longer recommended for pupils in classes, communal areas in secondary schools

More than two thirds of all adults in the U.K. have received a vaccination, and more than 17 million have had a second dose. But ministers say that while vaccines reduce the risk, they don’t eliminate it entirely, and some people are more vulnerable to severe illness than others.

Government scientists remain concerned over the potential threat of a new variant of the virus emerging to knock the U.K.’s vaccine program off course.

Public Health England said Friday that a virus mutation first detected in India has been reclassified as a “variant of concern,” with surge testing being carried out in London and parts of northwest England. Latest data shows there are 520 cases in the U.K, up by 318 in a week.

At Monday’s briefing, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty said the India variant was “slightly concerning” because it appeared to be increasing “but from very low levels”. He said it could be more transmissible than the Kent variant. And he warned the risk from mutations of the virus would remain. “Things can come out of a blue sky,” Whitty said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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