People in England will now be allowed to spend more time outside, meet a friend at the park and view a potential new home as the Government begins to relax coronavirus lockdown measures despite the death toll continuing to rise.
Changes in the guidelines, which come into force from Wednesday, have caused confusion and anger – as people remain unable to visit relatives or friends at their homes, but can now be shown around a property for sale.
The move to unlock the housing market will enable buyers and renters to complete purchases and view properties in person, while visiting estate agents, developer sales offices or show homes will also be allowed.
The Government estimates more than 450,000 buyers and renters have been unable to progress their plans to move house since lockdown measures were introduced in March.
Unlimited exercise, sunbathing and meeting one person from another household in a public space will also be permitted in England from Wednesday, as long as the two-metre rule is respected, while golf clubs, tennis courts and angling have been given the green light.
Restrictions on how far people can travel to get to the countryside, national parks and beaches in England have also been lifted – but people have been warned to respect local communities, keep their distance from others and avoid hotspots or busy areas.
Advice on avoiding public transport aside from essential journeys remains in place, and staying overnight at a holiday or second home is also not allowed.
Fines for those who break the rules will now start at £100 in England, and will double on each further repeat offence up to £3,200. Stricter rules remain in place in the rest of the UK.
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph said a Treasury document estimated the UK’s deficit could reach £337 billion this year because of the pandemic, compared to the forecast £55 billion in the Budget announced in March.
It said the assessment, drawn up for the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and dated May 5, warned that filling such a gap through tax rises would be “very challenging without breaking the tax lock”.
The paper said measures including income tax hikes, a two-year public sector pay freeze and the end of the triple lock on pensions may be required to fund the debt.
It comes after Mr Sunak announced the furlough scheme, currently supporting 7.5 million jobs, will be extended until the end of October, although employers will be expected to pick up a share of the bill from August as the economy reopens.
And the human toll of the Covid-19 pandemic was laid bare in official figures indicating a toll of more than 40,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the UK.
The analysis by the PA news agency includes deaths from Covid-19 and where it has been mentioned on the death certificate as a factor.
– Millions of self-employed workers will be able to apply for grants of up to £7,500 from Wednesday, with payments due to land within six days, the Government has said.
– A new report by the Institute for Public Policy Research said financial measures brought in to deal with the lockdown were protecting landlords and banks more than families.
– Office for National Statistics data showed care home deaths accounted for some 40% of coronavirus-related fatalities registered in England and Wales in the week ending May 1.
– Downing Street condemned as “despicable” an attack on Belly Mujinga, a railway ticket office worker who died of coronavirus after being spat at while on duty
National Police Chiefs’ Council chairman Martin Hewitt said officers would “continue to use common sense and discretion” in policing the new rules.
“The efforts of the public mean police officers have rarely had to enforce the Government regulations so far. I am confident the vast majority will continue to do their bit and follow guidance in this next stage.
“We are all now able to spend much more time outdoors and each of us need to take responsibility for doing that within the social restrictions set out by the Government.
“Our approach will continue to use common sense and discretion, and to engage, explain, encourage and, only as a last resort, enforce.”
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick added: “Spending time outdoors, exercising or just enjoying the countryside is essential for our physical health and wellbeing. The restrictions have impacted everyone, but particularly those without much living space or a garden.
“We want to make life as healthy, bearable and social as possible, whilst controlling the virus and saving lives. That is why we have worked to find safe ways to enable more people to spend more time outdoors.”