The five biggest changes to life in England from 17 May

The prime minister announces a return to hugs, indoor dining and some foreign travel from next week

A group of women dine outdoors
(Image credit: Niklas Halle'n/AFP via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has given a cautious go-ahead for hugs between friends and family members as he announced the next stage of lifting coronavirus restrictions from 17 May.

Pubs and restaurants will also be able to reopen for indoor dining, and groups of up to 30 will once again be able to meet outdoors.

This will be the third stage in England’s “roadmap” out of lockdown, with all restrictions expected to be lifted on 21 June if government data shows England has successfully met its targets for reducing Covid-19.

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Here are the five main changes that Johnson announced at a Downing Street press conference this evening.

1. Hugs

Hugging friends and relatives will be allowed from next week, but the prime minister warned people to use “common sense” when embracing their loved ones.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told the BBC on Sunday that No. 10 wanted to see “friendly contact” between people restored, although a key government science adviser said hugs should be selective, short and avoid face-to-face contact.

Speaking to the BBC in a “personal capacity”, Professor Cath Noakes advised that hugs should be restricted to “very small numbers” of close family members from who you “really value a hug“.

”The reality is that when you hug someone you are very close to them and we know the virus is in people’s breath and you are very close to that breath at that moment,” she said.

“New guidance on meeting friends and family will emphasise personal responsibility rather than government rules,” says the site.

Up to six people or two households will also be able to meet indoors, and overnight stays with people not in your household or bubble will also be allowed.

2. Indoor dining

Diners and pub-goers will no longer have to be outside huddled under blankets and heaters from next week, as indoor meals and drinks will return for groups of six or two households. Jostling for a good spot at the bar will remain firmly in the past for now, though, as table service must be used at pubs, bars and restaurants.

Museums, theatres, cinemas and other entertainment venues will also be allowed to reopen, as will the accommodation sector, with hotels, hostels and bed and breakfasts all expected to be able to open their doors to guests.

3. Indoor leisure

Next week will see a return for indoor sports and exercise classes, and some major sports events will go ahead, both indoors and outdoors.

Indoor sports events, business conferences and concerts will be allowed with venues able to fill their spaces to a capacity of 50% up to 1,000 people. For outdoor events, rules will say venues are allowed to have 50% capacity up to 4,000 people, although for events at seated stadiums the rules differ slightly.

Seated stadiums can apply for a 25% capacity cap, with a maximum of up to 10,000 people in attendance at sports fixtures.

4. Funerals and weddings

The 30-person limit for funerals will be lifted in England next week, rather than in June as was originally planned. The plans would mean “any number” of mourners would be able to gather for funerals “as long as the venue can comply with social distancing”, said the BBC.

Social distancing rules mean some venues will still not be able to welcome larger numbers of mourners, but Deborah Smith, from the National Association of Funeral Directors, said the easing of restrictions would give grieving families “that little bit of choice” to choose larger venues if they wished to do so.

Wakes and wedding receptions, however, will be restricted to just 30 people.

5. Travel

Foreign holidays are set to return after the government announced on Friday the 12 destinations that have been placed on England’s “green list” of countries. Anyone returning from green-list countries will not have to quarantine on their return from 17 May.

The 12 countries and territories are: Portugal, Israel, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Iceland, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Faroe Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and St Helena, Tristan de Cunha and Ascension Island.

However, not all green-list countries are currently open to UK tourists. Travel to mainland Portugal is currently for “essential” purposes only, while Australia and New Zealand are closed to all but its citizens.

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 Sorcha Bradley is a writer at The Week and a regular on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast. She worked at The Week magazine for a year and a half before taking up her current role with the digital team, where she mostly covers UK current affairs and politics. Before joining The Week, Sorcha worked at slow-news start-up Tortoise Media. She has also written for Sky News, The Sunday Times, the London Evening Standard and Grazia magazine, among other publications. She has a master’s in newspaper journalism from City, University of London, where she specialised in political journalism.