UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday laid out the next stage in his COVID-19 pandemic lockdown easing roadmap, with indoor gatherings and hugging to be allowed again within a “cautious and common sense” approach.

Addressing a Downing Street press conference, Johnson declared that the tests he had set for the country to move to the next stage of reopening from next Monday have been met as the UK recorded the lowest level of pandemic deaths since July last year.

However, he struck a note caution and pointed to the need to monitor new variants of coronavirus, including the so-called Indian variant which has now been classed as a Variant of Concern (VOC) by Public Health England (PHE).

“This is a very considerable unlocking. But it’s got to be done in a way that is cautious… we have just got to monitor the Indian variant, other variants,” said Johnson.

He was joined at the briefing by Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, who in his update on the pandemic circulation said that one of three subtypes of the Indian variant was of “some concern” as it showed a rise in numbers “sharply” in some parts of the UK from very low levels.

“So that has to be monitored very carefully,” said Whitty.

The Indian variant subtype B.1.617.2, which was found to be at least as highly transmissible as the dominant Kent variant in England, was designated as a VOC by PHE last week after over 500 cases were found in parts of England. It is among a list of variants, including South African and Brazilian variants, currently being monitored as VOCs in Britain.

Under the eased lockdown rules from next week, people from different households so far able to meet only outdoors will be able to meet in indoor settings as up to six people or two households will be able to meet indoors and up to 30 people outdoors.

From May 17 – the penultimate mark for a complete end to lockdown scheduled for June 21, the Stay in the UK restriction will be lifted and people will be able to travel for overnight stays and to green list countries. The unlock from next Monday will mean indoor hospitality can reopen and indoor entertainment can resume, including cinemas, museums, and children’s play areas.

All remaining outdoor entertainment can reopen, such as outdoor cinemas and performances. Some larger events will be able to take place, including conferences, theatre and concert performances, and sports events. Restrictions on the number of attendees will remain in place.

“The public can make informed, personal decisions on close contact, such as hugging, with their friends and family. Close contact continues to carry a risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, and people must consider the risk to themselves and to others. COVID-secure rules remain for the workplace and businesses, such as in shops and hospitality,” Downing Street said.

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 in place to control infection rates. All remaining university students will be eligible to return to in-person teaching and learning from May 17, and should get tested twice a week upon return.

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.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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