LiveBoris Johnson confirms social distancing will end on May 17 but it will remain in place in Northern Ireland

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has announced social distancing for friends and families will end in England on May 17 but it will remain in place in Northern Ireland.

Monday, 10th May 2021, 5:54 pm

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Mr. Johnson made the announcement on Monday afternoon.

LIVE UPDATES: Coronavirus NI - Boris Johnson confirms end of social distancing for friends and family

Last updated: Monday, 10 May, 2021, 17:45

  • UK ‘in very good position’ against coronavirus variants – expert
  • No additional deaths and six patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units
  • Covid alert level downgraded as PM prepares to announce easing of restrictions
  • Donnelly opposed to border travel restrictions

Boris Johnson announces of end of social distancing for friends and families in England

People in England will be able to hug loved ones, dine in restaurants and go on holiday abroad from next week, Boris Johnson has confirmed.

The move to the next stage of the road map out of lockdown on May 17 came as the Covid-19 alert level in the UK was downgraded after a “consistent” fall in cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

The four chief medical officers of the UK have said the threat level should be reduced thanks to the success of the vaccination programme and social distancing restrictions.

Confirmation that England would move to step three on the road map came from Mr Johnson at a Downing Street press conference after a Cabinet meeting to sign off the change.

The biggest easing of lockdown measures so far is designed to encourage people to take more personal responsibility for managing the risks posed by the virus.

The Prime Minister said: ““This unlocking amounts to a very considerable step on the road map to normality and I am confident that we will be able to go further.”

The road map remained on track for the next stage on June 21 and Mr Johnson promised that later this month the Government would set out “what role there could be – if any – for certification and social distancing”.

The Government has been reviewing whether Covid status certification, recording whether people have had a vaccine or negative test result, could be used to help open up businesses.

People will be given the choice on whether to remain two metres from family or friends, meaning they can once again hug and shake hands.

But officials suggested people should consider getting tested for coronavirus before hugging and wear face masks or ensure a room is well ventilated before ditching social distancing measures.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “What the public need to understand is that we are moving away from delivering a specific instruction on this point to advising the public that, because of the success of the vaccine rollout and the public abiding by the rules, we are at the point where everyone can use their own personal judgment.”

Mr Johnson underlined that message at the press conference, saying: “Today we are taking a step towards that moment when we learn to live responsibly with Covid, when we cease eventually to rely on detailed Government edicts and make our own decisions.”

From May 17:

– People will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30.

– People will be able to meet indoors in groups of six, or two households.

– Pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers indoors, although they will be limited to table service.

– Cinemas, museums, theatres and concert halls will be allowed to reopen although there will be capacity limits on large events.

– The “stay in the UK” restriction will lift and people will be able to travel to “green list” countries, such as Portugal although they are still being advised not to go to destinations on the amber list.

– Up to 30 people will be allowed at weddings, although dancing will still not be allowed, and the cap on the number of mourners attending funerals will be lifted, in line with the safe capacity of the venue.

– Secondary school pupils will no longer be told to wear face masks in class and communal areas.

The easing of restrictions came after the UK’s senior medics said the threat level should be lowered from “level 4” to “level 3”, means that the epidemic is in general circulation, but transmission of the virus is no longer deemed to be high or rising exponentially.

In a statement, the chief medical officers of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the UK chief medical officers and NHS England national medical director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 3.

“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.

“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.

“It is very important that we all continue to follow the guidance closely and everyone gets both doses of the vaccine when they are offered it.”

The UK Covid-19 threat level has not been below level 3 since the start of the pandemic and the last time it was at this level was mid September 2020.

The threat level was raised to its highest level, level 5, on January 4 when officials raised concerns the NHS was at risk of being “overwhelmed”.

It was downgraded to level 4 in February.

The latest figures showed:

– Up to May 9 35,472,295 people have had a first dose of vaccine, a rise of 100,626 on the previous day, while 17,856,550 of those have now also had a second doses, an increase of 187,171.

– A further four people died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Monday, bringing the UK total by that measure to 127,609.

– The Government also said that, as of 9am on Monday, there had been a further 2,357 lab-confirmed cases in the UK, bringing the total to 4,437,217.

Meanwhile, BioNTech has said its Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer does not need to be tweaked to tackle variants of the virus currently in circulation.

In its quarterly report, the company said: “To date, there is no evidence that an adaptation of BioNTech’s current Covid-19 vaccine against key identified emerging variants is necessary”.

But it said that it has a strategy to “address these variants should the need arise in the future”.

Three oxygen tanks made in Northern Ireland arrive in India to assist the Indian government in its battle against Covid-19

UK ‘in very good position’ against coronavirus variants – expert

The UK is in a “very good position” against emerging coronavirus variants, with vaccines working and disease rates falling, an expert has said - writes Nina Massey, PA Science Correspondent.

The comments come after Public Health England (PHE) upgraded the strain first detected in India – B.1.617.2 – to a variant of concern.

Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium (COG-UK), and professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said that, based on current evidence, there is nothing to suggest the Indian variant causes more severe disease than the Kent variant which is dominant in the UK.

However, she warned that a lack of evidence is not the same as no evidence, and that there is just not enough data at the moment.

Prof Peacock said: “Public Health England have said that they’ve put an assessment of moderate confidence of increased transmissibility based on the mutation profile and supported by the evidence that actually this does appear to compete with our current circulating variant, the Kent variant, and modelling on growth estimate suggesting that transmissibility is at least equal to B.1.1.7.”

She added: “I think that, for me, looking at the overall landscape, I’m still very delighted that vaccines are working, that, you know, whatever is out there, vaccines are working, and disease rates are falling, so we’re in a very good position.

“As scientists we just have to keep our eye on this so that we just maintain that trajectory.”

Speaking at a press briefing, Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said laboratory analysis of an early version of the Indian variant – which is not surging in the UK – indicated vaccines may protect against severe disease, but there might be a greater degree of immune escape which will feed into estimates of transmissibility.

Prof Peacock said: “But I think the point is to note is that this isn’t a special variant of concern that’s going to get around washing your hands and distancing and wearing a mask, and being in a well-ventilated place – I think that’s the key thing.

“So, for me, the message is we just keep doing those things but we’re in a better position now because we have falling rates, and a good vaccination programme, which I would anticipate will just continue to increasingly protect our population.”

Prof Gupta said: “The mortality rates and the severity rate will be very low in the post-vaccination era, as long as we get the boosting right.

“Knowing what variants are doing is important for scientists and public health people because there are people out there who are susceptible to this virus, who can’t be vaccinated for example, or whose immune responses after vaccination are poor, and that fraction of vulnerable people is larger than one may think.

“As we’re opening up society now, what we don’t want to see is transmission of these variants that have more immune escape properties because then the vulnerable people within the UK population are at greater risk, we think.”

Asked whether there is a risk that the Indian variant could become the dominant strain in the UK, Prof Gupta said it is a possibility, but that with very low transmission in the country, there is an opening for a virus that is better adapted to vaccinated people to start transmitting.

He added: “It won’t cause severe disease in the majority of people or even death, so that it just may become the thing that circulates, but then so could the South African origin variant.

“It all depends on the dynamics of transmission, and how quickly we can detect them and close them off.”

No additional deaths and six patients with Covid-19 in intensive care units

There has been no further deaths of patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland.

The Department of Health said there had been an additional 76 cases of the virus confirmed in the last 24-hour reporting period.

On Monday morning, there were 57 Covid-19 positive inpatients in hospital, of whom six were in intensive care.

Covid alert level downgraded as PM prepares to announce easing of restrictions

The Covid-19 alert level in the UK has been downgraded after a “consistent” fall in cases, hospital admissions and deaths.

The four chief medical officers of the UK have said the threat level should be lowered from “level 4” to “level 3”, thanks to the success of the vaccination programme and social distancing restrictions.

This means that the epidemic is in general circulation, but transmission of the virus is no longer deemed to be high or rising exponentially.

It comes as experts said that the nation is in a “strong position” to press ahead with the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce that people in England will be able to take a step closer to normality from next week as more indoor mixing and hugging loved ones will be permitted once more.

Boris Johnson will hold a press conference in Downing Street later on Monday to announce the next steps in England’s road map out of lockdown.

In a statement, the chief medical officers of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, said: “Following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data, the UK chief medical officers and NHS England national medical director agree that the UK alert level should move from level 4 to level 3.

“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. 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.

“It is very important that we all continue to follow the guidance closely and everyone gets both doses of the vaccine when they are offered it.”

The UK Covid-19 threat level has not been below level 3 since the start of the pandemic and the last time it was at this level was mid September 2020.

The threat level was raised to its highest level – level 5 – on January 4 when officials raised concerns the NHS was at risk of being “overwhelmed”. It was downgraded to level 4 in February.

It is expected that Mr Johnson will confirm that England can press ahead with the next phase out of lockdown from May 17 which allows more freedoms both in and outdoors.

Professor Sir John Bell said the nation was in a “very strong position” to move forward with the easing of restrictions which will enable people to “try and get back to normal”.

Oxford University’s regius professor of medicine told Good Morning Britain that data from vaccination programmes from the UK, Israel and the US shows a “rather rapid fall-off” in cases of disease, hospital admissions and deaths after rising numbers of people were given their first dose of vaccine.

“It’s a really very striking fall in all those things.

“I do think that we’re in a very strong position to go forward now with fewer restrictions and try and get back to normal.”

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, said that figures for hospital admissions and new infections are similar to low levels seen last August.

But the member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) urged people to “act responsibly” as restrictions were lifted.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I think it’s actually very important for our mental health and wellbeing that we can hug our loved ones, but to me the key message is, if and when this comes in, we need to remember that the pandemic hasn’t gone away.

“We are still a few steps away from normality, so it’s really great that we can hug our loved ones, but what we need to remember is we need to be a little bit careful.”

He said that the easing of restrictions could see the R number rise above 1, but added: “The key thing for me is what we want to avoid is hospital admissions going up and people dying going up.

“And if we can keep those out of the low levels they are then hopefully this resumption of hugging can be done safely and we can proceed again to the June 21 relaxation.”

Mental health minister Nadine Dorries repeated the call for caution but said that the road map was “on course”.

She told Sky News: “I think it’s what most people have missed, that intimate contact with family and friends, and entertaining, having people in your own house, meeting outdoors.

“It does look as though the road map is on course, but we do so with caution, ensuring that the data is in place and looking forward to – and with excitement to – the fact that we will be able to hug our family and friends soon.

“So, caution balanced with optimism, I think, is the way forward.”

Asked what “cautious cuddling” means, she told BBC Breakfast with a laugh: “I don’t think you can cautiously cuddle.”

But Dr David Nabarro, special envoy on Covid-19 for the World Health Organisation, said he would urge people to maintain social distancing and keep using face masks.

He told Sky News: “On the one hand we’ve got a dangerous virus, on the other hand we must get on with life because it just can’t go on with the restrictions that people have had up till now.

“Finding that middle path, how to live with this virus’s constant threat, is key.

“If I were able to talk to everybody personally over the coming weeks, I would say: You must restart life and everybody wants you to do that, but please be really careful, maintain that physical distance of between one metre and two metres, especially indoors, and don’t forget to wear your face masks because that really can give extra protection.

“It’s these simple things, but all done together that will really make the difference as to whether or not future spikes are huge or future spikes are small and easily contained.”

Professor in Medical Microbiology Sally Jane Cutler told Times Radio: “I think we have to be very conserved about who we choose to hug.

“Personally I’m going to restrict my hugging to family members and not beyond.”

Ms Dorries told BBC Breakfast: “We do have variants of concern on one hand, on the other hand we have the capacity to lateral flow twice test everybody in the UK, we have the capacity to surge test in localised areas where we see those variants of concern and where we know problems may be rising.”

Ms Dorries said the UK is “still in the tail end of the pandemic” while “globally the world is still in the grips of this pandemic”.

It is expected that the Prime Minister will announce from May 17, most social contact rules outdoors will be lifted, although gatherings of more than 30 will remain illegal.

Indoors, the rule of six or two households will apply.

Indoor hospitality, entertainment venues such as cinemas and soft play areas, the rest of the accommodation sector, and indoor adult group sports and exercise classes are expected to reopen.

Other measures include allowing up to 30 people to attend weddings, receptions and wakes, as well as funerals.

The Government has said the latest data suggests easing restrictions from May 17 is unlikely to risk a resurgence in infections.

It comes after latest figures show a third of UK adults are now fully vaccinated against Covid-19, with a total of 17,669,379 people having received both jabs – the equivalent of 33.5% of all people aged 18 and over.

Overall more than 53 million vaccine doses have been administered in the UK.

Meanwhile, BioNTech has said its Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer does not need to be tweaked to tackle variants of the virus currently in circulation.

In its quarterly report, the company said: “To date, there is no evidence that an adaptation of BioNTech’s current Covid-19 vaccine against key identified emerging variants is necessary”.

But it said that it has a strategy to “address these variants should the need arise in the future”.

Donnelly opposed to border travel restrictions

Ireland’s Health Minister has said he would not support restrictions on cross-border travel, writes David Young, PA.

Stephen Donnelly said he did not think the Covid-19 situation in border counties currently warranted the measure.

Last week Stormont’s Health Minister Robin Swann wrote to Mr Donnelly calling for a halt to non-essential cross-border travel, insisting it should be done “by enforcement if required”.

The letter was written after recent surges in infection numbers in Donegal and across the border in the Derry City and Strabane council area.

Mr Donnelly said the spikes in Donegal were largely confined to two specific electoral areas and he said the infection rates were now on a downward trajectory again.

From Monday, a lockdown restriction preventing non-essential travel between counties will lift in the Irish Republic.

“We have an open border, a very open border on the island,” Mr Donnelly told RTE Radio One.

“I don’t want to see that change, the Irish Government does not want to see that change. I believe that the island is doing very well, both north and south, at the moment and actually Donegal is doing quite well.”

Mr Donnelly said a formal response to Mr Swann was still being formulated by his officials. He said he would also be speaking with his northern counterpart next week about the issue.

“It’s a conversation we’ll have at government and obviously I’ll discuss it directly with Minister Swann,” he said.

“My own view right now is that the epidemiological situation wouldn’t warrant that, we are opening up to inter-county travel, we are not changing that tomorrow certainly.”

In last Wednesday’s letter to Mr Donnelly, seen by the PA news agency, Mr Swann warned of a “fresh increase of community transmission of Covid-19”.

He said that both jurisdictions should do everything possible to prevent non-essential cross-border travel.

The letter said: “I wish to place on record my concern at the potential for cross-border interactions to fuel a fresh increase in community transmission and Covid-19 cases in respective jurisdictions.

“Our two jurisdictions are at different junctures, in terms of number of cases, the current trajectory of the epidemic, vaccination progress and Covid-19 restrictions.

“However, that should not hamper continued co-operation in key areas.

“In particular, I believe we should be doing all we can to prevent non-essential cross-border travel at this time.

“This will require clear messaging, backed up by enforcement if required.”

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