Restrictions on foreign travel and indoor dining ease in England

Johnson urges ‘dose of caution’ due to concern over Indian variant as society reopens

Bar staff at the The Oak Inn in Coventry, West Midlands, as indoor hospitality and entertainment venues reopen to the public. Photograph: Jacob King/PA Wire

Bar staff at the The Oak Inn in Coventry, West Midlands, as indoor hospitality and entertainment venues reopen to the public. Photograph: Jacob King/PA Wire

 

British prime minister Boris Johnson has called for a “heavy dose of caution” as indoor socialising and physical contact resumed against the backdrop of concerns over the coronavirus variant first discovered in India.

Mr Johnson said “now everyone must play their part” as England pushed ahead with the third stage of the road map out of lockdown on Monday.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to welcome customers back indoors, visits to the homes of friends and family can resume and the foreign holiday ban has ended.

Hugs and other physical contact between households are also permitted for the first time since restrictions began more than a year ago.

But the measures were eased as top scientists called for caution and warned of a “perilous moment”, with the Indian variant feared to be as much as 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent strain.

In a statement, Mr Johnson said: “Together we have reached another milestone in our road map 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.”

He said the “current data does not indicate unsustainable pressure on the NHS”, and that second vaccine doses are being accelerated to give the greatest protection to the most vulnerable.

“But now everyone must play their part – by getting tested twice a week, coming forward for your vaccine when called and remembering hands, face, space and fresh air,” he added.

Ministers are hoping surge testing and vaccines will allow a safe opening up of the nation, with jabs due to be extended to the over-35s this week.

But health secretary Matt Hancock did not rule out the possibility of imposing local lockdowns in areas such as Bolton to tackle the Indian variant, which he warned could “spread like wildfire”.

He said there are more than 1,300 cases of the Indian variant of concern, which is “relatively widespread in small numbers” and is becoming “the dominant strain” in Bolton and Blackburn.

The easing came after official figures showed more than 20 million people have received both vaccine doses, covering more than 38 per cent of UK adults, while more than 69 per cent had received at least one.

What restrictions are easing

in England today?

From Monday, people in England will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30, and 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.

Other recreational venues such as cinemas, museums, theatres and concert halls will be allowed to reopen, although there will be capacity limits on large events.

Up to 30 people will be allowed at weddings, 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, and university students will return to campus for in-person lectures.

The “stay in the UK” restriction will lift and people will be able to travel to “green list” countries without having to quarantine, provided they take one post-arrival Covid-19 test.

What is the latest in Wales?

Wales will move to alert level two on Monday with the reopening of indoor hospitality and entertainment venues.

The reopening of indoor service for pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes as well as entertainment venues like cinemas will come alongside allowing up to 30 people to take part in organised indoor events and up to 50 people in organised outdoor events.

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said the country could allow small food festivals and small live music and arts events to resume too if the Indian variant poses no need to pause relaxing restrictions.

Mr Drakeford said that though international travel would be allowed from Monday under a traffic light system, the government’s concerns about reimporting the virus meant it would advise people not to travel abroad during 2021.

What is happening in Scotland?

Glasgow and Moray, in the country’s northeast, will remain in Level 3 of the five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions on Monday for at least another week as the rest of the mainland drops to Level 2.

In Level 2 areas, six people from three households will be able to meet indoors, the same number can meet in a hospitality venue, and eight people from eight houses can meet outdoors.

Alcohol can be served indoors in pubs, cafes and restaurants, and cinemas, bingo halls and amusement arcades can reopen.

Social distancing during meetings indoors or in private gardens will be dropped, allowing people to hug loved ones again.

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon also confirmed that Scotland will move to a traffic-light system for international travel, similar to that already announced for England, though she said Scots should “think seriously” about whether to take overseas holidays.

What is the latest in Northern Ireland?

Indoor hospitality is set to reopen in Northern Ireland on May 24th with mitigations, subject to a review on May 20th.

Mitigations include permitting up to six people to sit together, removing the restriction on the number of households they can be from.

Indoor visits in a domestic setting are also to be allowed involving six people from no more than two households and indoor visitor attractions including amusement arcades, bingo halls, museums, galleries and cinemas are to reopen from May 24th.

Also from May 24th, the “stay local” message is to be removed, numbers increased for indoor gatherings, numbers increased to 500 for outdoor gatherings, libraries are to reopen, and schools can resume extra-curricular activities, indoor extra-curricular sports, outdoor inter-schools sports and day educational visits.

There is also to be a full return to outdoor sport and a return to indoor club training in squads from May 24th, followed by a return to indoor competitive sport from May 31st.

Meanwhile, from June 21st, restriction on audiences in seated theatres and concert halls and other venues will be removed and the return allowed of conferences and exhibitions. These decisions will be subject to review in June. – PA