In less than a week, people in England will be able to give friends and family a hug for the first time since the start of the pandemic, reports the AP.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday that he has given the go-ahead to hug from May 17 as part of lockdown easing following a sharp fall in new coronavirus infections.
Other easing measures include the reopening of pubs and restaurants indoors as well as cinemas and hotels.
“This unlocking amounts to a very considerable step on the road back to normality,” Johnson said at a Downing Street briefing. “But this doesn’t mean that we can suddenly throw caution to the wind. I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones, whether they have had the vaccine, and whether there has been time for that vaccine to take effect.”
Similar restrictions are being eased in the other parts of the UK – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – following a sharp fall in new infections as a result of a long winter lockdown and the rapid rollout of vaccines.
The UK is now recording around 2,000 new coronavirus cases a day, compared with a daily peak of nearly 70,000 in January. Daily deaths have also plummeted with only four recorded on Monday.
The government has also announced a tentative reopening of foreign travel from May 17, but with only a handful of destinations deemed safe enough to ditch the 10-day quarantine requirements upon return.
Portugal and Iceland now have no quarantine requirements but other popular destinations such as France, Italy, Spain and Greece still require quarantining and a series of coronavirus tests.
Although the UK has recorded Europe’s highest coronavirus death toll, with more than 127,500 dead, new infections have dropped dramatically.
Also, the success of Britain’s vaccine rollout has raised hopes that this easing will not see the same virus resurgence that happened last autumn following a lifting of restrictions during the summer.
Around 53% of the British population have received one dose of vaccine while more than a quarter have had two jabs – one of the speediest vaccine rollouts in the world.
The next round of lockdown easing is expected on June 21. The hope is that all other limits on social contacts will be lifted then.
Gurch Randhawa, a professor of public health at the University of Bedfordshire urged caution.
“It is tempting to relax social distancing, offer the glimmer of a much needed hug, and lift restrictions on international travel, but this could be a big mistake at this stage of the pandemic,” he said.
“As a minimum, the government should be advising only those have received both vaccination doses to be hugging each other, and even a short hug, with faces directed away from each other to minimise risk of virus transmission.”