Covid: Hugs set to be allowed from May 17 as PM expected to outline next stage of coronavirus lockdown easing

Social distancing is scheduled to end on June 21 Credit: PA

Hugging friends and family will soon be allowed again, with the next stage of the easing of Covid-19 restrictions likely to go ahead as planned, a Cabinet minister has said.

Michael Gove said the prime minister will confirm on Monday the relaxation of rules for the next stage of the road map out of lockdown, which is due to take effect from May 17.

It will see most social contact rules outdoors lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 will remain illegal.

Indoors, the rule of six or two households will apply, with indoor hospitality, entertainment venues such as cinemas and soft play areas, the rest of the accommodation sector, and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes expected to reopen.

The government has said most social distancing rules will hopefully come to an end on June 21.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Speaking on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Gove said: “All being well, the prime minister will confirm tomorrow that there will be a relaxation, we’ve already indicated a proportionate relaxation on international travel, very limited at this stage because we have to be safe.

“In the same way, as we move into stage three of our road map it will be the case that we will see people capable of meeting indoors.

“And without prejudice to a broader review of social distancing, it is also the case that friendly contact, intimate contact, between friends and family is something we want to see restored.”

Mr Gove also said the Government is reviewing whether pupils should continue to wear masks in schools from May 17.

Listen to our coronavirus podcast:

Ministers have faced calls from union leaders for face coverings to remain in secondary schools and colleges, after they described plans to remove them as “unwise” at a time when Covid-19 infections remain in classrooms and not everyone has received a vaccine.

Secondary school pupils remain the age group with the highest number of infections across the country.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had previously said the Government is planning to lift the face mask requirement in secondary schools from May 17.

When asked whether mask-wearing in schools will end, Mr Gove said: “What we want to do throughout is balance public health by making sure we can return to normal as quickly as possible.”

“I won’t pre-empt that judgment, we’ll be seeing more about it shortly.”

Meanwhile, the head of the Oxford University vaccine group said he believed it is the right time to ease further restrictions in England.

(PA Graphics) Credit: PA Graphics

Professor Andrew Pollard said the country has seen the “extraordinary success” of both the vaccination programme and the “prolonged” lockdown.

“I think it is time to start, based on the very careful modelling that’s been done, relaxing some of those restrictions,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“That means we’re in a very fortunate position here in the UK.”

On Friday, the Government announced plans to allow international travel from May 17 after months of banning most trips abroad.

It was met with criticism from industry leaders who described the “cautious” approach to unlocking foreign travel as “disappointing”, after only 12 countries were added to the quarantine-free green list.

The Government said a further five people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 127,603, with a further 2,047 lab-confirmed cases.