Mixing indoors from May 17 at the earliest, while ministers will review hugging

Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Limited social mixing indoors will be permitted again from May 17 at the earliest, while ministers will review whether people can hug their loved ones.

Boris Johnson’s four-step plan to end the coronavirus lockdown in England paves the way for groups of six – or two households – to meet outdoors from when the second stage of Step 1 begins, “no earlier than” March 29.

Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve people outside only from Step 2 – no earlier than April 12 – with no need for meals to be ordered with alcohol, under the Prime Minister’s “road map” published on Monday.

Indoor gatherings of six people will not be permitted until Step 3 – not before May 17 – when 30-strong outdoor gatherings will be allowed.

But the road map acknowledges “it may be possible to go further than this” on indoor meetings “depending on the data”.

Coronavirus – Mon Feb 22, 2021
A graphic showing Step 3 of the road map outlined by Prime Minister Boris Johnson (HM Government)

Around this stage, ministers will review social distancing rules between friends and family, potentially allowing hugging to return for the first time since the first lockdown in March last year.

“As soon as possible, and no later than Step 3, the Government will update its advice on social distancing between friends and family, including hugging,” the road map says.

“Until then, people should continue to keep their distance from anyone not in their household or support bubble, and keep up habits such as regular hand washing and letting in fresh air.”

The hospitality sector will be able to reopen indoors from this step, too, with no curfew and no need for substantial meals to be served with food.

Pubs will not yet quite look the same as they did before the pandemic, however, with customers obliged to order, eat and drink while seated.

Some legal limits on social contact will stay in place until the fourth step, which will begin no earlier than June 21, with Mr Johnson having set four tests to progress between the stages.

Ahead of Step 4, ministers will complete a review of social distancing measures, including the “one metre plus” rule and the wearing of masks.

They will also assess whether to lift the “work from home” guidance, which remains in place under the third step.

The first easing of social contact will come in the first phase of Step 1, when recreation in parks and gardens with one person from another household will be legally permitted from March 8 at the earliest as the “stay at home” order is relaxed.

Nightclubs will be among the last venues to remain shuttered, with their reopening not earmarked until Step 4.

But progress into each step requires four tests being: the success of the vaccine rollout, evidence of vaccine efficacy, an assessment of new variants, and keeping infection rates below a level that could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

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