Boris Johnson today opened the door for families and friends to reunite outside from Monday.
The Prime Minister is ready to allow get-togethers in parks and gardens so children and grandparents can see each other for the first time since lockdown started on March 23.
The great unlocking of Britain is planned to begin on June 1, the same day that primary schools will partially reopen, along with car showrooms and outdoor markets.
“We are past the peak and beginning to enter the next stage of our fight against coronavirus,” the Prime Minister declared this morning.
Final details of the reunions were being discussed this afternoon in Downing Street between the Prime Minister and key scientific advisers.
A leading plan would allow up to six people to meet outdoors at once, provided strict social distancing of two metres is maintained. It would mean a parent and three children could see two grandparents. Under the current rules, only one-to-one meetings in parks are allowed.
Another proposal would allow two households to meet up in the open air. They could chat but each household would have to stay two metres apart without hugging.
Mr Johnson is understood to favour allowing get-togethers in private gardens as well as parks, which could allow celebrations at homes across England.
However, the exact details — including whether shared barbecues would be permitted — will only be decided after he sees the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or Sage.
The Prime Minister hopes to announce that the five tests have been met to allow Britain to move forward to the next stage on the Government route map out of lockdown, where more social activities are allowed. The Health Secretary said this morning the key message was that “outside is safer than indoors”.
Matt Hancock also hinted that it will be safe for pubs to open their gardens and for restaurants to set tables outdoors before too long.
“The good thing that we’ve learned from the science of this virus in the last few weeks is that the risk of transmission outdoors is much lower — it’s not zero, but it is much lower than indoors,” he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“So, during the summer in particular, a lot of the changes that you can expect to see will be based on the principle that outdoors is safer than indoors.”
The Covid Alert status is expected be lowered from the current level of four, meaning an epidemic is in general circulation and transmission risks are high, to level three where “gradual relaxing of restrictions and social distancing measures” are permitted.
In a tweet, Mr Johnson stressed: “It’s important that we continue to stay alert and maintain social distancing as schools and shops begin to re-open.”
In other key developments today:
- The new NHS test and trace system went live this morning, but the woman in charge, Baroness Harding, told MPs in a conference call that it “won’t be fully operational at local level until the end of June”, according to Labour’s Ben Bradshaw.
- Cricket bosses met to consider starting the county championship in August.
- Summer holiday hopes were dented as Tui extended the suspension of breaks for UK customers until at least the end of June due to travel restrictions. The UK’s biggest tour operator had previously cancelled all trips up to June 11. It has also suspended its Marella Cruises up to July 30.
Mr Hancock said he had decided to holiday in the UK. Promoting the new test and trace system, Mr Hancock said people must stay at home if told to do so by a tracer.
“I think that the vast majority of people will understand that it is in everybody’s interest that those who are in higher risk follow the requests from the NHS, these instructions, and it is very important that they do,” he told Today.
“And, frankly, this is about how, as a country, we get out of this lockdown in the safest possible way, short of having a vaccine or an effective treatment, which obviously we’re working on but we don’t yet have.”
Amid reports by Sky News that some contact tracers do not have their basic systems up and running, the Department of Health insisted that the “vast majority of our 25,000 staff have completed their training”.
Under the new system, if an individual’s test is positive, NHS contact tracers or local public health teams will call, email or send a text asking them to share details of the people they have been in close contact with and places they have visited.
The team then emails or texts those close contacts, telling them they must stay home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms.