Exclusive: Rules 'could allow some outdoors socialising' soon after schools reopen

9 February 2021, 18:15 | Updated: 10 February 2021, 00:13

People in Regent's Park in London enjoy good weather
People in Regent's Park in London enjoy good weather. Picture: PA

By Ben Kentish

Rules could be relaxed to allow people to exercise and meet up with friends and family outdoors at the same time or very soon after schools reopen, LBC has learned.

Government sources said the current thinking in Whitehall was that it may be possible to allow some outdoor socialising and let people resume outdoor sports, like tennis and golf, on or soon after March 8, when pupils are due to return to the classroom.

While final decisions will not be made until next week and Boris Johnson is determined to proceed cautiously, officials believe that there is now more scope for easing restrictions earlier than was thought a few weeks ago.

Read more: Coronavirus cases fall dramatically across a number of central London boroughs

However, No10 sources insisted that no final decisions have been made and will not be until closer to February 22, when the Prime Minister is due to publish the roadmap out of lockdown.

Ministers will wait to see the latest available data next week before finalising the plan.

But with the roadmap already being drawn up, a government source told LBC: “We won’t necessarily just open schools and then leave it another few weeks. I’d expect there to be other things in relation to outdoor exercise and socialising.

“All the polling shows that this lockdown has been a lot tougher for people physically and mentally than earlier lockdowns so there’s a sense of wanting to allow them to do more in terms of exercising and meeting up safely outdoors.”

LBC understands that outdoor markets are also likely to be allowed to open in the earlier stages of lifting lockdown.

Government sources also dismissed suggestions from some scientists that mass gatherings like conferences, big weddings and large sporting events could remain banned “for the next few years”.

One said: “It will get to the point where the health risks are much lower and the economic risks become more important. That’s not the case at the moment but in time the balance will shift.

“It’s a case of getting to a point where the vaccines have reduced the risk to a level where people still get Covid but they don’t get seriously ill and certainly don’t need to go into hospital.”

The focus on easing restrictions on outdoor activities as early as March comes after ministers were told by scientific advisers that the risk of transmission outdoors is very low compared to people mixing indoors.

But while the success of the vaccination programme and rapidly falling cases and hospital occupancy rates mean officials are more positive about the scope for releasing measures than they were even a few weeks ago, the lifting of lockdown is likely to be slower than some Conservative MPs would like.

One Whitehall source said: “The problem with lifting too much at once is that if cases rise, it’s harder to see exactly what is causing it. You have to do it cautiously.”