Socially distanced gatherings of six permitted under Johnson’s lockdown easing


Friends and family will be able to meet in parks and gardens in socially distanced groups of six under Boris Johnson’s gradual easing of the lockdown for England.

The Prime Minister said that all five of his tests to move into the next phase had been met, allowing schools to begin reopening and greater contact to be permitted from Monday.

Mr Johnson on Thursday said people 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.

But the PM continued to be dogged by questions over his top aide Dominic Cummings after Durham police said he may have committed “a minor breach” of lockdown rules.

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”.

The PM stoked fresh controversy when he blocked the pair from answering questions about Mr Cummings, arguing he was acting to “protect them” from a “political argument”.

Credit: PA Graphics

He said he intends “to draw a line under the matter”, despite police saying officers would have turned back Mr Cummings during his 50-mile round trip to Barnard Castle.

But Durham Constabulary said they would not take “retrospective action” despite finding the adviser may have made a “minor breach” of lockdown laws.

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.

And he accused the PM of having “totally misjudged” the nation’s mood over Mr Cummings, adding: “The weakness of the Prime Minister has meant a loss of a week when we should have been concentrating on what comes next.”

In other developments:

– The toll of deaths linked to the virus rose to almost 48,000, while at least 189 frontline health and care workers have died after contracting Covid-19

– Dental practices in England will be able to reopen from June 8

– People across the nation clapped their appreciation for carers for the 10th successive week, in what the founder of the Clap for Carers event has said should be the last

– Public Health England proposals to reduce deaths by enacting a stronger lockdown of care homes were presented to Downing Street on April 28 but rejected by ministers, the Guardian reported.

– Though the Government must give the green light, the Premier League is hoping to restart football matches behind closed doors from June 17 and all games would be aired on the BBC.

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.