Kate Andrews

Hugging gets the green light

Hugging gets the green light
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
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The next stage of the roadmap is set to go ahead. At tonight’s No. 10 press conference, Boris Johnson announced from next Monday, 17 May, groups of up to six (or two households) can meet indoors, while up to 30 people will be able to meet up outside. Face coverings in school classrooms will be scrapped, and there will no longer be a cap on the number of people attending a funeral. Indoor hospitality can reopen, including restaurants and pubs, while hotels, cinemas and theatres can also open their doors, albeit with social distancing still in place.

The one-metre plus rule means that while many may start to feel like things are getting back to normal – booking a meal inside, having a weekend away – many businesses will still be operating under surreal circumstances, unable to turn a profit. On the personal level, however, more freedoms are being restored: government guidance will give the green light to those who want to hug and kiss friends and family, asking people to use their own judgement and do their own risk assessment when doing so.

While the Prime Minister once again ruled out moving the final roadmap date of 21 June forward (when supposedly all restrictions lift) Johnson was notably more optimistic at today’s press conference about the prospects of returning to normal life – and the role vaccines are playing to get us there.

Having played down the effectiveness of the vaccines over the winter, today the Prime Minister and his team focused more on the positive data, which he said made him ‘optimistic that things will get back much closer to normality’. Patrick Vallance echoed that ‘everything is pointing in the direction that the vaccines are producing very effective reduction in hospitalisation and death,’ as well as ‘reducing onward transmission.’ 

The decision to green-light hugging reflects this: giving more personal leeway over social distancing with friends and family is a long way from the PM insisting just over a month ago that two vaccinated people were at risk if meeting inside. With Covid deaths 99 per cent below peak, and antibody data surging (especially for the over-60s), it’s a welcome, if not overdue, shift in tone.

But there are still outstanding questions: mainly around social distancing and ‘Covid status certification’ (i.e. vaccine passports). Johnson announced that these updates can be expected by the end of the month, to give businesses time to prepare for what might come in. We learned last week that international travel is a long way off from pre-pandemic norms, suggesting the decisions being taken outside the government’s roadmap may not result in full return of ‘freedom’ promised this winter. The outcomes of these pending reviews will heavily determine to what extent life returns to normal.