UK PM Johnson to ease England’s lockdown after months of strict COVID-19 measures

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out on Monday the next phase of lockdown easing in England, giving the green light to “cautious hugging” and allowing pubs to serve customers pints inside after months of strict measures.

Aided by one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in the world, Britain’s daily case and death numbers have dropped sharply - reporting just two fatalities on Sunday - enabling it to emerge from a lockdown imposed in January to tackle a second wave.

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The government set out plans on Friday to slowly reopen international travel and Johnson is expected on Monday to confirm that the next set of easing will come into force on May 17, with pubs, restaurants and cinemas opening indoors.

People should also be able to meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors, while six people or two households can meet indoors. The government is also expected to say whether the rules around social distancing with friends and family can ease, prompting headlines about “cautious hugging”.

“It does look as if the roadmap is on course,” junior minister Nadine Dorries told Sky News. “The prime minister will be making an announcement later this afternoon and he will be detailing how we’re going to unlock and when.”

Asked by the BBC if people would be told to cautiously cuddle, Dorries replied: “I don’t think you can cautiously cuddle but the prime minister is going to make the announcement this afternoon.”

That reopening will apply to England only, with the devolved governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales setting out their own rules. Dorries, the minister for mental health, said the government needed to be careful that society did not reopen too quickly however because variants of the coronavirus have been circulating.

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According to Johns Hopkins data, Britain has the fifth highest death toll in the world from COVID-19 with 127,605 fatalities. Two thirds of adults in the United Kingdom have had a first vaccine and one third have had both doses.

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