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Further lifting of England’s lockdown confirmed for May 17

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). Photo by Dan Kitwood/PA Media

By David Hughes, PA Political Editor

People in England will be able to hug loved ones, dine in restaurants and go on holiday abroad from next week, Boris Johnson has confirmed.

The move to the next stage of the road map out of lockdown on May 17 came as the Covid-19 alert level in the UK was downgraded after a “consistent” fall in cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

The four chief medical officers of the UK have said the threat level should be reduced thanks to the success of the vaccination programme and social distancing restrictions.

Confirmation that England would move to step three on the road map came from Mr Johnson at a Downing Street press conference after a Cabinet meeting to sign off the change.

The biggest easing of lockdown measures so far is designed to encourage people to take more personal responsibility for managing the risks posed by the virus.

The Prime Minister said: “This unlocking amounts to a very considerable step on the road map to normality and I am confident that we will be able to go further.”

The road map remained on track for the next stage on June 21 and Mr Johnson promised that later this month the Government would set out “what role there could be – if any – for certification and social distancing”.

The Government has been reviewing whether Covid status certification, recording whether people have had a vaccine or negative test result, could be used to help open up businesses.

People will be given the choice on whether to remain two metres from family or friends, meaning they can once again hug and shake hands.

But officials suggested people should consider getting tested for coronavirus before hugging and wear face masks or ensure a room is well ventilated before ditching social distancing measures.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “What the public need to understand is that we are moving away from delivering a specific instruction on this point to advising the public that, because of the success of the vaccine rollout and the public abiding by the rules, we are at the point where everyone can use their own personal judgment.”

Mr Johnson underlined that message at the press conference, saying: “Today we are taking a step towards that moment when we learn to live responsibly with Covid, when we cease eventually to rely on detailed Government edicts and make our own decisions.”

From May 17:

– People will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30.

– People will be able to meet indoors in groups of six, or two households.

– Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors, although they will be limited to table service.

– Cinemas, museums, theatres and concert halls will be allowed to reopen although there will be capacity limits on large events.

– The “stay in the UK” restriction will lift and people will be able to travel to “green list” countries, such as Portugal although they are still being advised not to go to destinations on the amber list.

– Up to 30 people will be allowed at weddings, although dancing will still not be allowed, and the cap on the number of mourners attending funerals will be lifted, in line with the safe capacity of the venue.

– Secondary school pupils will no longer be told to wear face masks in class and communal areas.

The easing of restrictions came after the UK’s senior medics said the threat level should be lowered from “level 4” to “level 3”, means that the epidemic is in general circulation, but transmission of the virus is no longer deemed to be high or rising exponentially.

In a statement, the chief medical officers of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the UK chief medical officers and NHS England national medical director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 3.

“Thanks to the efforts of the UK public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination programme, case numbers, deaths and Covid hospital pressures have fallen consistently.

“However, Covid is still circulating with people catching and spreading the virus every day so we all need to continue to be vigilant.

“This remains a major pandemic globally.

“It is very important that we all continue to follow the guidance closely and everyone gets both doses of the vaccine when they are offered it.”

The UK Covid-19 threat level has not been below level 3 since the start of the pandemic and the last time it was at this level was mid September 2020.

The threat level was raised to its highest level, level 5, on January 4 when officials raised concerns the NHS was at risk of being “overwhelmed”.

It was downgraded to level 4 in February.

The latest figures showed:

– Up to May 9 35,472,295 people have had a first dose of vaccine, a rise of 100,626 on the previous day, while 17,856,550 of those have now also had a second doses, an increase of 187,171.

– A further four people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total by that measure to 127,609.

– The Government also said that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 2,357 lab-confirmed cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,437,217.

Meanwhile, BioNTech has said its Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer does not need to be tweaked to tackle variants of the virus currently in circulation.

In its quarterly report, the company said: “To date, there is no evidence that an adaptation of BioNTech’s current Covid-19 vaccine against key identified emerging variants is necessary”.

But it said that it has a strategy to “address these variants should the need arise in the future”.

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