Pubs, cafes and restaurants in England can serve customers indoors from next Monday, Boris Johnson has announced – and families will be able to hug.
The changes also mean groups of 6 people – or 2 households – will be free to meet indoors from 17 May and groups of 30 outdoors.
Cinemas, museums and children’s play areas will reopen, as will theatres, concert halls and sports grounds but with capacity limits.
And all remaining accommodation, including hotels, hostels and bed-and-breakfasts, can re-open, to allow overnight stays in groups of up to 6 people or two households.
“The data now support moving to step 3 in England from next Monday, 17 May.” Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference.
And – looking ahead to next month – he added: “I’m confident that we will be able to go further. We remain on track to move to step 4 on 21 June.”
The lifting of the hugging ban will allow “close contact between family and friends” – again defined as groups of 6, or 2 households – although people are being “urged to remain cautious about the risks”.
Pubs will be table service only, mask-wearing will still be required in bars and restaurants except when eating and drinking, and the test-and-trace system will stay in place.
Although weddings and receptions of up to 30 people will be allowed, no dancing will be permitted.
The government is pressing ahead after deciding its four tests for moving further down the roadmap, set out in February, are being met.
They are; a successful vaccination programme, that jabs are reducing hospitalisations and deaths, that the NHS is not being overwhelmed and that new dangerous Covid variants are not taking root.
Infection rates are at their lowest level since last September, although there are still around 2,000 new cases across the UK every day.
More than two thirds of adults across the UK have received their first vaccination – and more than 17 million have been given their second dose.
Step 3 also means a further easing of restrictions on care home visits with five named visitors allowed and greater freedoms for residents to go out on trips.
School and college pupils will no longer be expected to wear face coverings in classrooms or in communal areas – and all university students will return to in-person teaching.
Ministers had already announced that the ban on foreign travel is being lifted from 17 May, although quarantine-free returns will be allowed from only a very short list of ‘green list’ countries at first.
The fourth and final step on the roadmap is due to kick in on 21 June – before which a review will decide whether all social distancing regulations can be lifted.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies