As he confirmed Step 3 of the roadmap – allowing indoor serving in pubs, cafes and restaurants in England as well as hugging between family members – the prime minister also dropped his strongest hint yet that almost all regulations will go next month.
Mr Johnson said he expected to scrap the “1 metre-plus rule” – and that an announcement on “what we mean by the end of social distancing” would come this month, rather than making businesses wait until June.
“You will hear a lot more by the end of this month about exactly what the world after 21 June is going to look like,” he told a Downing Street press conference.
“At the moment, I’m feeling very positive about it, but we’ve got to be guided by the data.”
And, in a remark to cheer Tory MPs, Mr Johnson said: “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.”
The announcement later in May would also set out “what role if any” there would be for Covid-status certificates – showing whether someone has been vaccinated, or tested negative – to enter certain venues, he said.
Mr Johnson was speaking as he confirmed the lifting of further restrictions on 17 May, which will also allow:
* Groups of 6 people, or 2 households, to meet indoors – and groups of 30 outdoors.
* Cinemas, museums and children’s play areas to reopen – along with theatres, concert halls and sports grounds, with capacity limits.
* Hotels, hostels and bed-and-breakfasts to reopen – to allow overnight stays in groups of up to 6 people or 2 households.
* Up to 30 people to attend weddings and receptions – although no dancing will be permitted.
* Five named visitors to care homes – with greater freedoms for residents to go out on trips.
* No wearing of face coverings by school and college pupils in classrooms or communal areas – and all university students to return to in-person teaching.
The lifting of the ban on hugging will allow “close contact between family and friends” – again, in groups of 6, or 2 households – although people are being “urged to remain cautious about the risks”.
“We all know that close contact, such as hugging, is a direct way of transmitting this disease, so I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones,” Mr Johnson said.
“Whether they have had a vaccine, one or two doses, and whether there has been time for that vaccine to take effect.”
Pubs will be table service only, mask-wearing will be required in bars and restaurants except when eating and drinking, and the test-and-trace system will stay in place.
Earlier, no Covid deaths at all were recorded in England – and only 4 anywhere in the UK, all in Wales – and the Covid alert level was lowered from “level 4” to “level 3”.
This means that, while the virus is in general circulation, transmission is no longer deemed to be high or rising exponentially, the UK’s chief medical officers said.
At the press conference, Mr Johnson appeared to reject calls to move to the fourth and final step of the roadmap before the 21 June date set down in February.
But he said: “I’m optimistic that things will get back much closer to normality. Let me put it like that.”
And he suggested people would want to go back to living as they did before, saying that – even with “brilliant electronic devices” – the “more reasons they actually find to meet face to face”.
“I’m pretty certain that, eventually, our town centres are going to be, our city centres are going to be, full of bustle, full of people wanting to interact again, in the way that they always have done,” he said.
Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, did warn of the need to watch closely a “sharp” rise in infections with the variant of the virus first found in India.
New data showed that 520 cases were identified in the UK up to 5 May – 318 more than the week before.
“This is actually spreading from very small amounts, but it is beginning to spread in certain parts of the country and we need to keep quite a close eye on this,” Professor Whitty said.
“What we know with all the variants is that things can come out of a blue sky – you’re not expecting it and then something happens.”
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