With COVID-19 infection rates declining and vaccination rates continuing to increase, England has taken decisive steps towards reopening starting on Monday May 17th.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also following their own 'unlocking' schedule.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it “a considerable step on the road back to normality” but cautioned that people should continue to be cautious and “exercise common sense”.
From next Monday people will be able to hug again, although it was not expected that strangers will celebrate the most significant step in easing restrictions to date with mass ‘hug-fests’.
“This doesn't mean that we can suddenly throw caution to the winds. We all know that close contacts such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease," he said.
Announcing that England had reached the four tests for further easing the lockdown in England to Step 3, Mr Johnson listed the activities which will now be permitted leading hopefully to Step 4 by June 21st.
“This means the Rule of Six or two households that has applied outdoors, will now apply indoors and the limit for outdoor meetings will increase to 30,” he explained.
“From next Monday you will be able to sit inside a pub and inside a restaurant. You’ll be able to go to the cinema and children will be able to use indoor play areas. We’re re-opening hostels, hotels, and B&Bs.”
The Prime Minister also announced that theatres, concert halls and business conference centres and sports venues will also reopen “subject to capacity limits.”
One of the first major UK show business award ceremonies was held on Tuesday night to a live audience for the first time since the lockdown last year although restricted to a live audience of 4,000.
Several live sports and music events were recently trialled following strict procedures of COVID-19 tests before and after the events for fans.
With international travel now permitted to selected destinations using a traffic light system, Mr Johson has now also cleared the way for persons to travel within Britain and stay overnight from Monday.
Schools will also be able to organise trips with overnight stays and face coverings will no longer be required in classrooms – or for students in communal areas in secondary schools and colleges.
All remaining university students will be able to return to in-person teaching, with twice-weekly Covid tests.
In care homes, which disproportionately bore the brunt of the worst phase of the pandemic, restrictions on visits are also being relaxed with the number of named visitors increased from two to five.
Care home residents, considered among the most vulnerable to the virus, will now have greater freedoms to leave their home without having to isolate on their return.
“This unlocking amounts to a very considerable step on the road back to normality,” the Prime Minister stated, adding that “we are taking a step towards that moment when we learn to live responsibly with Covid.”