Hugging between family and friends allowed from May 17, in 'single biggest step' out of lockdown but Prime Minister Boris Johnson urges 'common sense and caution'

Family and friends will finally be allowed to hug one another from May 17, in what Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described as the "single biggest step" out of lockdown.

But Mr Johnson urged "common sense and caution" as he announced planned easements of Step 3 of the Government s roadmap will go ahead next Monday.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister said: "More than a year into this pandemic, we all know that close contact, such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease. So I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones, whether they had a vaccine, one or two doses, and whether there has been time for that vaccine to take effect.

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"Outdoors is always safer than indoors, and if you're meeting indoors, remember to open a window and let in the fresh air. Keep getting tested regularly, even if you don't have symptoms, so you don't spread the virus, without knowing.

The Downing Street press conference.

"Whatever you decide, I must ask you to continue to follow social distancing when not with friends and family, including in work shops, pubs, restaurants and other settings. We only have to look at the very sad situation in other countries to see the lethal potential still have this virus, and we must continue to fight the spread of variants, here in the UK."

From May 17, indoor hospitality can reopen and indoor entertainment can resume, including cinemas, museums, and children’s play areas.

Up to six people or two households will be able to meet indoors and up to 30 people outdoors.

All remaining outdoor entertainment will be allowed to reopen, such as outdoor cinemas and performances.

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Addressing the public, Mr Johnson said: "I want to thank you particularly because your efforts have so visibly paid off, giving us the time to vaccinate more than two thirds of all adults across the UK, with more than one third - nearly 18 million people - also receiving their second dose and thereby unquestionably saving many lives.

"And so it's precisely because of your efforts that I can confirm today that we've met our four tests for further easing the lockdown in England.

"With deaths and hospitalisations at their lowest level since last July and the UK's four chief medical officers today agreeing a reduction in the alert level, the data now support moving to step three in England from next Monday, May 17."

The Prime Minister announced face coverings will no longer be needed in classrooms or for students in communal areas in secondary schools and colleges. Twice weekly home testing will remain to control infection rates.

Up to 30 people will now be able to attend weddings, receptions, and commemorative events including wakes, as well as standalone life-cycle events. These can take place outdoors or at any indoor Covid secure venue that is permitted to open. The number of people able to attend a funeral will be determined by the number that can be safely accommodated in the venue with social distancing in place.

Thirty people will also be able to attend a support group or parent and child group. The limit will not apply to children under 5.

Organised adult sport and exercise classes can resume indoors and saunas and steam rooms may reopen.

Care home residents will be able to have up to five named visitors, with two visitors able to attend at once provided they are tested and follow infection control measures. Residents will also have greater freedoms to leave their home without having to isolate on their return.

Hospital admissions and cases of severe illness also remain in line with modelling provided by scientific experts for the Roadmap.

The successful vaccination rollout continues, with over 35 million people receiving at least one dose, and nearly 18 million receiving both doses. One quarter of all adults have now received the strongest protection available.

The latest data shows that the estimated reduction in symptomatic disease is 60 per cent and hospitalisations 80 per cent for one dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged 80 and over. Data published by PHE today estimates that for the over 80s, two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of hospitalisation by 93 per cent.