Boris Johnson calls for 'heavy dose of caution' amid May 17 reopening

Boris urges ‘heavy dose of caution’ to keep Covid in retreat after Britain’s big reopening tomorrow: Tory MPs worry PM may give in to ‘panicking’ scientists’ calls to slow down easing as infections rise by 8% in a week amid Indian variant fears

  • Monday marks easing of restrictions on indoor venues and household mixing
  • But Boris Johnson has urged families to adopt a ‘heavy dose of caution’
  • Comes amid concern that cases of new Indian variant are being found across UK 
  • Tory MPs urged him to reject scientist suggestions of extending lockdown curbs
  • Covid infections today rose by 8 per cent to 1,926 compared to last week

Boris Johnson has urged families to adopt a ‘heavy dose of caution’ with the ban on indoor socialising and hugs finally ending.

In a guarded statement he said the emergence of the Indian strain of coronavirus meant the restored freedoms should be exercised carefully.

Tory MPs however called on the Prime Minister to reject warnings from scientists that lockdown curbs may have to remain in place longer because of the new variant.

From Monday, pubs, restaurants and cafes can serve customers indoors, cinemas and hotels can reopen and people can embrace loved ones from other households for the first time in more than a year.

Matt Hancock insisted ministers would not allow the new variant to ‘spread like wildfire’ and suggested only the fully vaccinated should embrace, and even then outdoors.

And the Health Secretary infuriated travel firms by warning against trips abroad, despite today’s lifting of the ban on foreign holidays.

Boris Johnson has urged families to adopt a ‘heavy dose of caution’ with the ban on indoor socialising and hugs finally ending on Monday

From Monday, pubs, restaurants and cafes can serve customers indoors, cinemas and hotels can reopen and people can embrace loved ones from other households for the first time in more than a year

Matt Hancock warned people to ‘be careful’ when hugging others tomorrow, when restaurants and pubs in England will be able to serve customers indoors for the first time since December

Sir Graham Brady, a senior Tory MP, urged the Prime Minister not to ‘panic’ over the new variant, which is still rare in the UK.

And his colleague Iain Duncan Smith said it was ‘bonkers’ to even consider further delays to reopening when evidence suggested existing vaccines worked against the Indian strain.

As official figures showed the number of Covid patients in hospital had fallen to below 1,000 for the first time since last September: 

  • The number of Britons given their second Covid jab reached 20million;
  • An update to the NHS app allowed for proof of vaccine status;
  • Mr Hancock said ministers were confident existing vaccines would work against the new strain;
  • He revealed that most patients hospitalised by it had refused a jab;
  • All over-35s will be offered the jab from this week;
  • Mr Johnson urged everyone to take two Covid tests a week to keep the virus under control;
  • Just four virus-related deaths were recorded, along with under 2,000 cases;
  • Labour’s Yvette Cooper called for the ban on foreign travel to continue;
  • The NHS is hoping soon to hit a million jabs a day to help fight the variant;
  • Long queues formed outside vaccination centres in Bolton, where the Indian strain has surged.

Today’s easing of Covid curbs is the biggest since the latest lockdown began in January.

Hotels and B&Bs can reopen to take advantage of the lifting of the ban on overnight stays while cinemas, museums and soft play centres can reopen their doors. The £5,000 fines for taking a foreign holiday will be scrapped.

Economists believe that families could splash out more than £800million this week as they celebrate the chance to meet loved ones again for the first time in months.

However Mr Johnson warned: ‘Together we have reached another milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but we must take this next step with a heavy dose of caution.

‘We are keeping the spread of the variant first identified in India under close observation and taking swift action where infection rates are rising.’

A week ago he declared Britain was on track to lift all remaining Covid curbs on June 21. But he rowed back from the pledge on Friday, saying the emergence of the new variant meant there was now ‘a real risk of disruption’.

The dramatic shift in tone followed a warning from government scientists that the fast-spreading variant could spark a surge in cases, especially with the resumption of indoor socialising.

Door-to-door Covid ‘hit squads’ are heading to Bolton and Blackburn, where the Indian strain is at its most virulent, to focus on areas with the greatest ‘vaccine hesitancy’. Pictured: A queue for the jabs at the pop up centre in Bolton

Former chief scientist Sir Mark Walport advised against ‘tight clinches’ with loved ones, adding: ‘If you’re going to hug, hug cautiously.’

But Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said early data on the effectiveness of the vaccines on the Indian variant looked ‘OK’.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain said: ‘People are getting in a panic about this new variant, when we should be celebrating the fact that the vaccines work – it is bonkers.

‘Ministers have to avoid the Corporal Jones mentality, tell the scientists to get back to their labs and get on with giving people back their freedom.’

With the Foreign Office now advising against travel to Israel, Portugal is the only sizeable ‘green list’ destination for British travellers looking to use their new freedom.

Government sources said the release of an updated version of the NHS app did not mean Covid passports would be introduced domestically.

What can people in England do from May 17? 

Can people come over to my house again?

Yes. Up to six people from multiple households or an unlimited number of people from two households will be allowed to visit you inside your house again.

Can people stay over at my house again?

Yes. People from outside your household will be allowed to stay overnight, as long as you stick to within the rule of six or two households.

Can I still meet people outside?

Yes. You will now be able to meet in groups of up to 30 people outside. Bigger groups will be illegal. Until May 17, you can still only meet outside in groups of six.

A member of bar staff wearing a face masks serves drink in a pub in East London in July 2020

Can I hug my friends and family again?

Yes. The Government has said you can hug ‘close friends and family’ from outside your own household – for the first time since the pandemic began in March 2020.

However, people are being urged to be ‘exercise their own personal judgement in line with the risks.’ There is no legal definition on who ‘close friends and family’ are.  

The Government also said wider social distancing rules will remain in place in adult social care, medical, retail, hospitality and business settings.

Can you sit inside a pub again?

Yes, indoor hospitality will resume – so you can sit inside a pub or restaurant with people from other households, as long as the rule of six (or two households) is met.

Will there be a substantial meal or curfew requirement for pubs?

No. As with step two on April 12, venues will not have to serve a substantial meal with alcoholic drinks; nor will there be a curfew.

An audience sit at the Pavilion theatre in Weymouth for a pantomime in December last year

Will you be able to stand at the bar?

No. Customers will still have to order, eat and drink while seated at a hospitality venue – even though they will now be allowed inside.

Will indoor entertainment venues now be allowed to reopen?

Yes. Cinemas, theatres, museums and indoor children’s play areas will all be allowed to reopen, but must follow guidelines on social distancing and face masks.

Concert halls, conference centres and sports stadia will also be allowed to reopen, with larger events in all venues able to resume with capacity limits (see below). 

Will venues face capacity limits?

Yes. Larger performances and sporting events will be capped in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full, whichever is a lower number. For outdoor venues the cap will be 4,000 people or half-full – again, whichever is lower.

In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can be spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend – or a quarter-full, whichever is lower.

Football fans at Wembley Stadium at a pilot event for the FA Cup semi-final last month 

Will social distancing and face masks rules remain for now?

Yes. The one-metre (3ft) rule remains in place in public settings such as pubs, shops and restaurants. You should wear a face mask when walking around these places.

What about children wearing masks in schools?

Secondary school children will no longer have to wear face masks in classrooms and corridors from May 17. However, those aged 11 and above will still be required to wear the masks in public settings such as shops, unless they have a medical exemption.

Ministers said infection rates among students and staff continue to decrease in line with wider community transmission, but twice weekly home testing will remain. 

Will students be able to attend university lectures in person again?

Yes. All university students in England can return to campus next week for in-person teaching. They will be expected to get tested for Covid-19 twice a week.

Most students, apart from those on critical courses, were told not to travel back to term-time accommodation as part of the third national lockdown in January.

Students on practical courses, who require specialist equipment and facilities, began returning to face-to-face teaching on March 8. But it is estimated that about half of university students have not been eligible to return to in-person lessons.

Cinema-goers in their seats for a film at the Odeon Leicester Square in London last August

Can I go on holiday abroad again?

Yes, but with many restrictions. Last Friday, the UK Government cleared just 12 destinations for quarantine-free tourist trips for Britons from May 17.

However, many of the destinations are remote islands or have very strict entry measures or blanket bans on UK tourists, further reducing the list of options.

Portugal and Gibraltar are the only countries on the ‘green list‘ that most Britons will realistically be able to visit for a warm weather holiday this month.

You can technically also go on holiday to ‘amber list’ and ‘red list’ countries again too, but you will need to complete a period of quarantine as follows:

For amber list, you must quarantine at home for ten days on your return and take a PCR test on days two and eight – as well as a lateral flow test before the return flight.

Or there is an alternative option that you could pay for an additional ‘Test to Release’ on day five to end self-isolation early. There is also a chance the country turns red.

Those returning from a red list country must stay in a government-approved quarantine hotel for 11 nights upon their return at a cost of £1,750.

Will there be a new limit on wedding numbers?

Yes. Up to 30 people will now be able to attend weddings. This limit will also apply to other types of significant life events including bar mitzvahs and christenings.

Will funerals also now be limited to 30 people?

No. There will now be no limit of the number of mourners at funerals, although the venue must operate in a socially distanced way and within capacity guidelines.

Travellers arrive at London Heathrow Airport on May 3. Non-essential travel is set to reopen

Can you stay overnight somewhere with people from another family?

Yes. The rest of the accommodation sector will now reopen, including hotels, hostels and B&Bs – and people from different households can share the same room.

Up until May 17, if you want to stay at a hotel or self-catering accommodation, you must only do so with members of your own household or support bubble.

Can I go to indoor sport classes now?

Yes. All indoor adult group sports and exercise classes will be allowed again, five weeks after gyms were allowed to reopen under step two on April 12.

Will closed parts of leisure centres now be allowed to reopen?

Yes. Saunas and steam rooms will now be allowed to reopen, following on from swimming pools and gyms on April 12.

There will be no more limits on mourners at funerals. Above: File picture of a funeral last July

Will there be limits on numbers in support groups?

Yes. The Government has said 30 people will now be able to attend a support group or parent and child group. The limit does not include children aged under five.

Will restrictions on care home visiting be changed?

Yes. Care home visiting will be eased further, with residents able to have up to five named visitors and more freedom to make ‘low risk visits’ out of the home.

Will the guidance on working from home change?

No. People are still being advised to ‘continue to work from home where they can’.

Hugs with family and friends will be allowed again from May 17 (file picture posed by models)

What is the exact time that the rules change on May 17?

Unconfirmed. This is not yet clear, but the April 12 rule change towards step two came in at midnight, so it is likely this will be the same for May 18.

Are there businesses that still cannot reopen?

Yes. Nightclubs are the only businesses that must remain shut until at least June 21.

Is there a confirmed date for when all Covid rules will cease?

Not yet. The Government hopes that on June 21 it will be able to drop all legal limits on social contact, but this will be confirmed nearer the time.

Before this date, the Government will complete a review of social distancing and other long-term measures such as face masks and guidance on working from home.

All university students in England can return to campus next week for in-person teaching (file)

Why can we now move into Step 3 on May 17?

The Government has set four tests to further ease restrictions, which have now been met. These are that:

  • The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully;
  • Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated;
  • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS;
  • Assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.

It also comes after the UK Chief Medical Officers confirmed this morning that the UK Covid-19 alert level should move from level four to level three.


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