Hugging loved ones could be permitted agan from mid-May if the Covid-19 vaccine rollout goes according to plan, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said.
It is expected that the majority of the most vulnerable groups will have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine by this point, meaning close social contact could be allowed.
Limited social contact from May
Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his cautious roadmap to relaxing lockdown rules on Monday (22 February) with a four-step plan, which aims to remove all restrictions on social contact, businesses and events by 21 June.
Progressing along the ‘roadmap’ will depend on four key tests, including 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.
The first step of easing restrictions will see all pupils in England return to school from 8 March, with wider use of face masks and testing in secondary schools.
Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted from this date, increasing to larger groups of up to six people, or two households, on 29 March, allowing people to gather in parks and gardens.
Limited social mixing indoors will be permitted in England again from 17 May at the earliest. It is around this stage that people will be given further advice on close contact between friends and family, including hugging.
Mr Hancock said that ministers would remain “cautious” until the most vulnerable groups have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and gave this as a reason for the timing.
Asked about 17 may as a potential date for hugging to be allowed, he told BBC Breakfast: “We know that close contact is how this disease is passed on. And so the reason for that timing is, by then, all of the most vulnerable groups will have been able to have two jabs.
“We know from the data that was published yesterday that the first jab is very effective in helping to protect you against catching Covid, or hospitalisation, or of course dying from it.
“But the second jab adds to that protection, adds further. But we do want to be cautious until the most vulnerable groups have been able to have both of those doses.”
Businesses that rely on an indoor setting will be allowed to reopen from 17 May, including dine-in service at pubs and restaurants, and crowds of up to 10,000 in the largest venues, such as football stadiums, will be allowed at performances and sporting events.
International travel rules will also be reviewed, with 17 May targeted as the earliest possible date for a foreign holiday.
All restrictions to lift from 21 June
All remaining restrictions on social contact are expected to be lifted from 21 June, including allowing larger events to take place and nightclubs to finally reopen.
Weddings and funerals are also expected to be allowed to go ahead without any restrictions from this date, and it is hoped every adult will have been offered their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by the end of July.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is “very optimistic” that all England’s Covid-19 restrictions will be able to be fully lifted on 21 June, but warned “nothing can be guaranteed” and urged the nation to be “prudent” by continuing to follow the rules.