Why people in the West Midlands need to cuddle with caution as restrictions ease on May 17

From Monday 17 May, life takes another step closer to normality, as Step 3 of the government's roadmap out of lockdown comes into force.

Many more businesses can reopen, including restaurants welcoming customers indoors, museums and cinemas will reopen, and six people or two households will be able to get together indoors for the first time since Christmas.

Most significantly for many, the Prime Minister announced on Monday that hugging would once again be allowed, but that people needed to make their own judgements, and be cautious, taking personal responsibility about who they got close to.

Credit: PA

Why does the West Midlands need to be particularly cautious?

Angela Cartwright, a Public Health England Consultant for the West Midlands, says people in this part of the country need to be particularly careful.

Surge testing has just been announced in Redditch after cases of the South African variant were identified and a small number of cases of the  variant originally identified in India have been detected in Abbey Ward in central Nuneaton.

She says new variants are a potential risk, as some may be more likely to transmit from person to person, it's not know how resistant they are to vaccines, and how severe the illness may be.

Which areas of the Midlands should we be particularly worried about?

Areas such as Redditch and Nuneaton have had testing sites set up, but we may not know yet about some areas where these new variants are spreading because it relies on people getting tested.

So while the country is opening up, she urges us to keep getting tested and to keep following the rules.

What are the risks from a hug?

The virus spreads through close contact, which is why we've been social distancing for so long.

In a hug, faces come very close, risking transmission of the virus through the other person's breath.

What factors do you need to weigh up before going in for a cuddle?

Ms Cartwright says you need to consider how vulnerable you both are, and if you have both been vaccinated.

What about if you're both vaccinated?

Ms Cartwright says that people who don’t have immunity are still at risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid-19.

Even those who have had both vaccinations still need to take care as no vaccine gives total protection, so you could catch Covid-19 yourself, and also pass it on to someone else.

Is there a safer way of hugging?

Experts says hugs should be selective and short.

Prof Paul Hunter, Professor in Medicine, said: "If you do need to hug someone then try and keep your faces away from each other and you are not rebreathing each other’s air."

Prof Hunter suggests using this hug classification for people who are not in your bubble

  • OK hugs – polite hug, bear hug and back hug

  • Possibly OK, but watch where you are putting your face - one-way hug and 'buddy' hug

  • Best to avoid – intimate hug

How would you recommend we spend time with a loved one?

Ms Cartwright says we should enjoy the new freedom to visit each other’s homes and have a meal out inside, but to continue to take the now familiar precautions of washing your hands for 20 seconds, covering your face, keeping a social distance, and letting in fresh air.

Meeting people outdoors is safer, and also easier in the summer, and regular testing is now available if you are going out of the house regularly.

Will you be hugging anyone on Monday?