Original article from Kent Live
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed England will progress to step three of the lockdown exit roadmap.
During a TV announcement today (May 10) the PM confirmed that on May 17 the country will see several restrictions eased as we work our way out of lockdown.
The announcement brings rule changes to pubs, as well as changing restrictions on wearing face masks. It also introduces new rules on hugging.
Leading the press conference from Downing Street, Mr Johnson stood alongside England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
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Main lockdown lifting changes
From May 17 in England, people can meet outdoors in groups of up to 30 people. People can meet indoors in groups of up to six people or a maximum of two households or bubbles, whichever is larger.
Pubs, bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen indoor areas for the first time since the New Year.
Also opening on May 17 are indoor entertainment including cinemas, museums and children’ play areas.
Theatres, concert halls, conference halls and sports stadia can also reopen to larger events, with capacity limits.
Organised adult sport and exercise classes will be allowed indoors, and saunas and steam rooms can reopen.
Domestic overnight stays with friends and family will be allowed, as will staying in a venue with people from a different household.
Hotels, hostels and B&Bs will reopen – previously only self-contained venues with your own household were allowed.
The 30-mourner limit at funerals will be axed. Instead funerals can have any number of mourners as long as it is within the venue’s Covid-safe capacity with social distancing.
Babies and young children are included in the 30- and six-person limits on gatherings – they are not exempt. One exception to this is for support groups and parent and child groups. These can take place with up to 30 people, plus any number of children under five on top of that limit.
There are no plans to give any exemption to current rules before May 17 for the upcoming festival of Eid.
New rules on hugging
From May 17, the government will axe guidance in place since March 2020 that says people in England should socially distance – stay two metres apart – from anyone outside their household or bubble.
Instead, people will be told they can choose whether to socially distance from family and close friends.
This means people can choose to hug, kiss or shake hands with friends or relatives in the park or in a home.
Importantly, this will be aimed at people meeting within legally-allowed group sizes – six indoors, 30 outdoors.
It does not apply to people from two different small gatherings hugging, or strangers hugging in the street or a pub.
People will be told to exercise their own personal judgement in line with the risks.
They will be urged to remain cautious, because some people are more vulnerable to severe illness than others and vaccines do not eliminate the risk from Covid.
People do not have to take a lateral flow test before hugging, but it’s one way of reducing the spread of the disease. Likewise people could meet indoors or with the windows open, or wear masks, if they choose to.
There is no limit to the amount of time you can spend with people in a day, or the time spent in a pub or restaurant.
Officials characterise the change as a move towards “living with” coronavirus into the future.
They add it is not in any sense the end of advice around social distancing – and legal restrictions remain.
They stress close contact with an infectious person is still the most likely cause of spread of coronavirus.
New social distancing rules
Wider social distancing rules and regulations remain in place in places including social care, shops and pubs and restaurants.
Drinkers and diners must still check in with the NHS app when arriving at a venue, and customers and staff must wear masks when moving between tables.
While cinemas will reopen, people will be expected to wear masks during the film, unless eating or drinking.
Pubs and restaurants will still be table service only, with no standing at the bar allowed.
They will still have to obey the one-metre-plus rule, where people stay two metres apart or one metre with mitigations like a perspex screen.
Laws ordering venue owners to ensure customers are following the rules remain the same, despite the relaxation on hugging within a group.
Government guidance will remain to work from home wherever possible until at least June 21.
A review of social distancing rules more widely is taking place no earlier than June 21.
Government officials are unable to reassure event organisers when the rules post-June 21 will be clear.
Rules on masks in schools
Face coverings for pupils will no longer be recommended in secondary schools or colleges from May 17.
This means they will no longer be worn either in classrooms or communal areas, despite pleas by unions.
Face masks could return in some schools with local outbreaks, as officials admit some discretion will be needed.
Meanwhile university students return to in-person teaching and learning from May 17 – with twice-a-week testing – despite the fact students’ academic years will be over or nearly over by then.
Rules on weddings
Weddings, receptions, wakes and other life events like bar mitzvahs can now proceed with up to 30 people.
Hugging will be allowed at weddings, in line with people’s own assessment of risk, but dancing and dance floors will not. Venues must also comply with social distancing rules on capacity.
People can hold weddings anywhere it’s legally acceptable to hold weddings – such as back gardens in some cases.
People will be able to travel to green list countries from May 17, as previously set out.
The legal ban on all foreign leisure travel will be lifted, meaning people can legally to go amber or red list countries.
But the government guidance will remain not to travel to amber or red list countries, despite it being legal.
A new version of the NHS Covid-19 app should go live on May 17 allowing people to show their vaccine status for travel.
If they cannot get the app, people will be able to ask the NHS for a letter verifying their vaccine status to show to foreign countries demanding proof.
A ‘Covid passport’ for domestic use in the UK will only come later and is still in development.
Big capacity events rules
Outdoor venues are permitted capacities of 4,000 people or half-full, whichever is lower.
In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend, or grounds can be a quarter-full, whichever is fewer.
Fans can attend larger performances and sporting events indoors, with capacities of 1,000 people or half-full, whichever is fewer.
Other events have already been taking place – with bigger crowds and no social distancing – but they're part of a special pilot scheme and people must get negative tests to enter.