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Lockdown: Groups of up to six can meet in gardens from next week, Boris Johnson says

‘These changes mean friends and family can start to meet their loved ones, perhaps seeing both parents at once, or both grandparents at once,’ says PM

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 28 May 2020 18:17 BST
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Groups of up to six can meet in gardens from next week, Boris Johnson says

People will be able to meet with up to six friends and family members in gardens and other private outdoor spaces in England from next week, Boris Johnson has said.

Announcing plans to begin easing the lockdown, the prime minister said small groups would permitted to gather outside from Monday, as long as social distancing rules were maintained.

Primary schools will also begin to reopen next week for certain year groups, and garden centres, outdoor markets and car showrooms will begin to open to small numbers of shoppers at a time.

Mr Johnson said “limited and cautious” changes were being made to the restrictions to prevent a fresh surge in coronavirus cases.

If the infection rate remains at a lower level, secondary schools will begin to partially reopen from 15 June, along with non-essential shops.

Speaking at the Downing Street press conference, Mr Johnson said: “I know the toll that lockdown has taken on families and friends who have been unable to see each other.

“So from Monday we will allow up to six people to meet outside – provided those from different households continue strictly to observe social distancing rules by staying two metres apart.”

Allowing people to meet in parks initially was a “cautious first step” but Mr Johnson said it was now possible to allow people to meet in gardens and private outdoor spaces as there was “no difference in the health risk”.

He said: “These changes mean friends and family can start to meet their loved ones, perhaps seeing both parents at once, or both grandparents at once.

“I know that for many this will be a long-awaited and joyful moment.”

People are advised against seeing too many different households in quick succession, and entering the houses of family or friends is still against the rules, he said.

Mr Johnson admitted there may still be “anomalies or apparent inconsistencies” in the guidance and conceded that the public was only being allowed a “fraction” of ordinary social interaction.

“I know many of you will find this frustrating – I am sorry about that,” the prime minister said. “But I’m afraid it is unavoidable, given the nature of the invisible enemy we are fighting.

“It is a complex problem and we are asking for everyone’s patience as we work through it together. We will inevitably not get everything right first time.”

He said there could be further localised outbreaks and the government would “put on the brakes” if the infection rate begins to rise.

Asked if the public could have barbecues with their families, Mr Johnson said​: “We don’t want people to stay overnight, we don’t want people to go to other households and stay there, I’m just afraid we’re not at that stage.

“What you certainly can imagine is there could be meetings of families in a garden, you could even have a barbecue provided you did it in a socially distanced way, provided everyone washes their hands, provided everybody exercises common sense.”

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, said lifting restrictions needed to be done cautiously as the infection rate still means 54,000 new cases are occurring every week, or 8,000 per day.

He said: “That is not a low number, so it’s worth remembering that we still have a significant burden of infection, we are still seeing new infections every day at quite a significant rate and the R [the infection rate] is close to one.

“That means there is not a lot of room to do things and things need to be done cautiously, step by step and monitored, and the test and trace system needs to be effective in order to manage that.”

Earlier, Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scots could meet members of another household in their garden or a private outdoor space but stressed that numbers should be limited to eight people.

It also comes after the launch of the government’s new test and trace programme was plunged into chaos as NHS workers were unable to access the computer systems.

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