England to ease Covid-19 restrictions further on May 17

People will be allowed to meet up indoors for the first time in months, in groups of up to six people or two full households together. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - England will press ahead with plans to ease Covid-19 restrictions further on May 17, including allowing people to meet indoors, thanks to favourable data on infections and vaccines, the government said on Sunday (May 9).

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

Under Step 3 of the plan, as outlined when it was first announced, people will be allowed to meet up indoors for the first time in months, in groups of up to six people or two full households together.

Pubs, cafes and restaurants will be able to host customers indoors, also for the first time in months and subject to certain rules. Other indoor entertainment, hospitality and sports venues will also be able to resume activity.

Mr Johnson's Downing Street office said the latest data on Covid vaccinations, on infections, hospitalisations and deaths, and on the risk posed by new variants had been taken into account in deciding to move forward with Step 3.

"The data reflects what we already knew - we are not going to let this virus beat us," Mr 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."

Mr Johnson was due to provide further details at a news conference on Monday (May 10).

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

Junior minister Nadine Dorries was asked by the BBC if people would be told to cuddle cautiously.

"I don't think you can cautiously cuddle but the prime minister is going to make the announcement this afternoon," she said.

The reopening will apply to England only, with the semi-autonomous governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales setting out their own rules.

Ms Dorries, the minister for mental health, said the government needed to be careful that society did not reopen too quickly however because variants of the coronavirus are circulating.

The United Kingdom has lost more than 127,000 people to Covid-19. It experienced a devastating second wave that peaked in late January, but since then the numbers of new cases and deaths have plummeted.

On Sunday, a total of 1,770 new cases and two new deaths were recorded across the United Kingdom. That contrasts with the situation during the second wave, when the daily number of new cases peaked at over 80,000 while the daily death toll was above 1,300 on the worst day.

There are also expected to be significant changes for the arts and events sectors under Step 3, with both indoor and outdoor venues allowed to host far greater numbers of people than for many months.

The government had already confirmed last week that international travel would be allowed to resume on May 17, although still with severe restrictions in place except for a handful of countries.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.