PM announces friends and family can reunite as lockdown starts to ease

29 May 2020, 06:11

Boris Johnson made the announcement at the Downing Street briefing
Boris Johnson made the announcement at the Downing Street briefing. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A gradual easing of the lockdown in England will mean friends and family are able to meet in socially-distanced groups of six in parks and gardens.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson used a Downing Street press conference to announce the most significant easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions since they came into force on March 23.

The PM said all five of the Government's test set out in order to adjust lockdown restrictions have been met, which has paved the way for schools and some shops to reopen from next week.

Mr Johnson said: "The result is we can move forward with adjusting the lockdown on Monday."

Mr Johnson announced from Monday the public would be able to see "both parents at once, or both grandparents at once" in what he said would be a "long-awaited and joyful moment" for many.

Read more: New coronavirus lockdown rules: What changes have been made to Covid-19 restrictions?

Read more: PM says people can meet outdoors in 'socially distanced' groups of up to six from Monday

People from different households will be able to gather outside as long as they stay two metres apart, wash their hands and avoid going inside.

The PM warned: “But I must stress that to control the virus everyone needs to stay alert and strictly observe social-distancing rules and stay two metres apart from those you do not live with. Minimising contact with others is still the best way to prevent transmission.”

In Scotland, a gradual relaxation begins on Friday with a similar plan to allow outside gatherings, though First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is permitting groups of up to eight people.

Her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, is set to announce that outdoor meet-ups can resume from Monday, but he will unveil new "stay local" guidance to not travel more than five miles.

The easing of restrictions begins re-opening the economy, with outdoor retail and car showrooms opening in England from Monday ahead of a greater opening of non-essential shops.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to announce fresh details over the next phase of the furlough scheme designed to prevent lay-offs in the coming days.

Treasury sources did not deny reports that the Chancellor is set to ask employers to contribute 20% of wages, as well as National Insurance and pensions contributions from August.

Mr Sunak is facing calls, including from a cross-party group of 113 MPs, to extend the scheme supporting self-employed workers past Sunday or risk leaving many "without work and without support".

At the daily Downing Street briefing, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance stressed "there is not a lot of room" to ease measures, with new Covid-19 cases still around 8,000 per day.

He warned that with the rate of transmission, or R value, "close to one", the test and trace system must be effective in order to prevent exponential spread returning.

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty stressed that although groups of six would be able to meet up outside to socialise and even enjoy barbecues people from different households must keep two metres apart.

Prof Whitty said the more than one million people deemed extremely clinically vulnerable must continue shielding, but offered a glimmer of hope when he said that the infection level may be sufficiently reduced to allow their freedom "relatively soon".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer backed easing the restrictions, though he raised "serious concerns" about the level of statutory sick pay to support those asked to isolate.

The divergence in lockdown measures also extends to Northern Ireland, where First Minister Arlene Foster is to give the go-ahead to more retailers re-opening and small outdoor weddings, but not until June 8.