Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked people to exercise “a heavy dose of caution” as indoor socialising resumes on Monday.
From Monday, up to six people or people from two households are allowed to meet indoors, and 30 people can gather outdoors; indoor hospitality businesses can reopen, and the “new guidance on meeting friends and family emphasises personal responsibility rather than government rules,” according to the government.
This third step of the government’s road map to exit the lockdown has been overshadowed by concerns of the Indian variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, prompting Johnson and his ministers to urge caution.
“Together we have reached another milestone in our road map out of lockdown, but we must take this next step with a heavy dose of caution,” the prime minister said in a statement.
“We are keeping the spread of the variant first identified in India under close observation and taking swift action where infection rates are rising,” he said.
Johnson said the current data do not indicate “unsustainable pressure on the NHS,” and that second vaccine doses are being accelerated to give the greatest protection to the most vulnerable.
“But now everyone must play their part—by getting tested twice a week, coming forward for your vaccine when called, and remembering hands, face, space, and fresh air,” he added.
Former Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport has said that he thought it was “extremely important” that the government has added “fresh air” to its mantra of “hands, face, space.”
“People have got to be sensibly cautious so I think,” Walport told Sky News on Sunday.
“My advice is that just because you can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. As far as possible, socialize outside, maintain social distancing, if you’re going to hug, hug cautiously,” he said.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Sunday said there are more than 1,300 cases of the Indian variant of concern, which is “relatively widespread in small numbers” and is becoming “the dominant strain” in Bolton and Blackburn.
He did not rule out the possibility of delaying the final phase of the road map, or imposing local lockdowns in areas such as Bolton to tackle the Indian variant, which he warned could “spread like wildfire.”
But early lab data indicated that the CCP virus vaccines do work against the Indian variant, according to Hancock. Ministers are hoping surge testing and vaccines will allow a safe opening up of the nation, with jabs due to be extended to people over the age of 35 this week.
PA contributed to this report.