he Covid alert level was on Monday lowered from four to three, paving the way for new freedoms — including, according to a health minister, the return of kissing.
The decision to ease the national alert level from “a high or rising level of transmission” to the middle level of “the virus is in general circulation” was taken jointly by all four of Britain’s chief medical officers including England’s Professor Chris Whitty.
In a measure of the upbeat mood sweeping the Government as restrictions are relaxed again at last, health minister Nadine Dorries became the first to say Britons will soon be allowed to kiss each other again.
“I’m hopeful that we will all be hugging and kissing again soon indoors,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today show.
She also hinted that the next step of the roadmap, on June 21, could be brought forward if the data keeps improving, a suggestion that chimed with Tory Right-wingers and some scientists, but which Downing Street quickly doused down.
Boris Johnson chaired a meeting of the decision-making Covid-O committee of senior ministers this morning which agreed that official data justified going ahead with the next stage of the roadmap on May 17, which includes indoor dining and drinking at pubs and restaurants, plus the reopening of cinemas and theatres. The full Cabinet then met in a virtual session to confirm the step.
In their joint statement, the chief medical officers of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland said: “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.”
They cautioned: “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.”
Scientists were united in urging caution when restrictions are lifted. Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling group, told the BBC: “We are still a few steps away from normality… We need to be a little bit careful.”
Asked about the next phase of the Government’s road map, Professor Sir John Bell, Oxford university’s regius professor of medicine, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “I think we’ll still probably go steady but perhaps a bit faster. I’m feeling pretty comfortable with where we are at the moment.”
Under the roadmap for exiting lockdown, May 17 will see a major reopening of hospitality and leisure, including “wet pubs” and indoor restaurants, hotels, communal areas in camp sites, cinemas and theatres.
In addition, people will be allowed to meet indoors in groups of up to six or two households, face masks will no longer be needed in secondary school classrooms and hugging will be allowed.
Central London businesses hoping to bring workers back to offices in May looked set to have to wait for the “next step” on June 21.