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UK Announces Ease in Lockdown From May 17

LONDON: People in England will be able to hug close family and friends and meet indoors at pubs, restaurants and cinemas from next week, in the next phase of relaxing pandemic lockdown rules.

Hugging will be a matter of personal choice when people are allowed to meet indoors as a group of six or as two households from May 17. But social-distancing rules will remain in place for shops, pubs, restaurants and offices — as will government guidance on working from home if possible.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pressing ahead with his “road map” for lifting lockdown, after a dramatic fall in Covid-19 cases across the U.K. in recent months as vaccines were rolled out. Infection rates are the lowest since September, according to his office, and deaths and hospitalizations are at their lowest level since July.

“Today we are announcing the single biggest step on our road map and it will allow us to do many of the things we’ve yearned to do for a long time,” Johnson said at a televised press conference in London on Monday. “So let’s protect these gains by continuing to exercise caution and common sense.”

Hours earlier, the four U.K. chief medical officers downgraded the Covid-19 alert level from four to three, meaning that the epidemic is in “general circulation” but transmission is no longer high or rising exponentially.