British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday a loosening of coronavirus restrictions in England beginning from May 17.
From that date, Phase Three of the government’s roadmap to easing restrictions will be implemented.
“Your efforts have so visibly paid off,” Johnson said at a press conference.
Cases are now the lowest since September and deaths the lowest since July.
Johnson said the data “now supports moving to step 3 of easing lockdown,” which, he said, was a “very considerable step in the easing of normality”.
He announced that from next Monday, indoor hospitality can reopen and indoor entertainment can resume, including cinemas, museums, and children’s play areas. Up to six people will be able to meet indoors, and up to 30 outdoors.
“All remaining outdoor entertainment can reopen, such as outdoor cinemas and performances,” he added. “Some larger events will be able to take place, including conferences, theatre and concert performances, and sports events.”
Johnson said the public can make “informed, personal decisions on close contact, such as hugging, with their friends and family.”
He said close contact continues to carry the risk of catching coronavirus, and people had to judge this risk for themselves. Businesses still have to adhere to COVID-secure rules, including shops and hospitality.
International travel will reopen from May 17. Foreign holiday will be allowed to the countries on the government’s “green” list.
In schools, face masks will no longer be necessary, and in universities, in-person teaching will continue from May 17.
“Today we are announcing the single biggest step on our roadmap, it will allow us to do many things we have yearned to do for a long time,” Johnson said. “Let’s protect these gains by continuing to exercise caution and common sense.”
Bullishly, he added: “I am confident we will go further. We remain on track to move to step 4 on 21 June.”
Meanwhile, the UK’s four chief medical officers released a joint statement lowering the Britain’s COVID-19 alert level from 4 to 3.
Level 4 means transmission of the virus is rising exponentially, while Level 3 means the epidemic is in general circulation.
“Thanks to the efforts of the UK public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination programme, case numbers, deaths and COVID hospital pressures have fallen consistently,” the statement said.
“However COVID is still circulating with people catching and spreading the virus every day so we all need to continue to be vigilant. This remains a major pandemic globally.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock also welcomed new data from Public Health England that showed for the first time that individuals who receive a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine have approximately 80% lower risk of death with COVID-19 compared with those who are unvaccinated.
The data also showed that protection against death from the Pfizer vaccine rose from approximately 80% after one dose to 97% after two doses.
Government data released on Monday showed that across the UK over the past 24 hours there were 2,357 more positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to over 4.4 million. There were also a further four deaths, bringing the total to 127,609.
As of Sunday, over 35.4 million first doses of vaccine have been administered, and over 17.8 million second doses.