LOCKDOWN restrictions in England are set to be relaxed even further next week so that people can hug their loved ones and indoor hospitality can reopen.

The Prime Minister set out a new approach to tackling the virus, giving people greater responsibility for their own choices on whether to observe social distancing with friends and family.

Confirmation that England would move to step three on the road map came from Mr Johnson at a Downing Street press conference after a Cabinet meeting to sign off the change.

The road map remained on track for the next stage on June 21 and Mr Johnson promised that later this month the Government would set out “what role there could be – if any – for certification and social distancing”.

The Government said the latest data suggests easing restrictions on this date is unlikely to risk a resurgence in infections.

Officials also said infection rates are at the lowest level since September and hospital admissions and patients continue to decrease, or plateau at low levels in some areas, with levels similar to July last year.

What rules will be changing?

As summer approaches, the Government has pledged to look at easing restrictions on outdoor gatherings. Most social contact rules outdoors will be lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 will remain illegal.

This means Mr Johnson is likely to say people are free to meet friends and family in parks, gardens and other outdoor areas.

The Government’s road map advises people to “decide on the appropriate level of risk for their circumstances” when arranging to meet.

As part of the May 17 changes, people will be given the choice whether to remain two metres from family or friends, meaning they can once again hug and shake hands.

What will be allowed indoors?

Indoors, the rule of six or two households will apply, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove suggesting physical contact between friends and family will be allowed.

However, official Government guidance does say they will keep the indoor rule of six under review.

The change of rules on hugging comes weeks earlier than previously outlined, with June 21 earmarked as the date all legal limits on social contact would be removed.

Officials suggested people should consider getting tested for coronavirus before hugging and wear face masks or ensure a room is well ventilated before ditching social distancing measures.

As well as indoor hospitality, entertainment venues such as cinemas and soft play areas and the rest of the accommodation sector will reopen  – and this time without any 10pm curfews.

While gyms have been welcoming people back since the last round of easing, indoor adult group sports and exercise classes will be given the green light next week.

Changes to events, weddings and funerals

Limited crowds will also be allowed at sporting events and larger performances.

Larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full (whichever is lower) will also be allowed, as will those in outdoor venues with a capacity of 4000 people or half-full (whichever is lower).

In the largest outdoor seated venues where crowds can spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend (or a quarter-full, whichever is lower).

Up to 30 people will be allowed at weddings, although dancing will still not be allowed, and the cap on the number of mourners attending funerals will be lifted, in line with the safe capacity of the venue.

Other life events that will be permitted include bar mitzvahs and christenings.

What rules will remain in place?

Official guidance states it is hoped all legal limits on social contact can be removed by Step Four, which is no earlier than June 21. While it has eased up rules on hugging family and friends, social distancing should still be adhered to elsewhere. 

It is hoped nightclubs can reopen and restrictions on large events and performances that apply in Step Three can also be lifted. 

This will also guide decisions on whether all limits can be removed on weddings and other life events.

What does this mean for business and will employees have to go back to the office?

The Government has been reviewing whether Covid status certification, recording whether people have had a vaccine or negative test result, could be used to help open up businesses and Mr Johnson’s comments could be a hint they are no longer a priority.

Mr Johnson said current data indicated it might be possible to scrap the “one-metre plus” rule, which would greatly increase flexibility for businesses to increase capacity.

As part of the Government’s review into longer-term social-distancing policies, the working from home message may also be scrapped.

This may not come into effect on May 17, but is expected before the following phase easings on June 21.

Is it safe to book foreign holidays?

The “stay in the UK” restriction will lift and people will be able to travel to “green list” countries such as Portugal, although they are still being advised not to go to destinations on the amber list.

The Prime Minister has previously announced that Britons will be allowed to travel to green list countries without having to quarantine, providing they take one post-arrival test.

Portugal, Gibraltar, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland and the Faroe Islands – plus several small remote islands which are British Overseas Territories are currently on this list.

However, entry to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and the Faroe Islands is severely restricted.

Hotels, hostels and B&Bs in England will be allowed to take group bookings, meaning people can more easily plan domestic holidays.