Lockdown is about to get a bit more bearable under the new guidelines which the Prime Minister announced yesterday. So fire up the barbecue and dust off those social skills.
Earlier this month, Boris Johnson laid out England's lockown exit strategy which allowed for social interactions with one person from another household in public outdoor spaces only, like a park, as long as everyone remained two metres apart and continued to follow social distancing rules. But from Monday, June 1, as we head into phase two, groups of up to six people can meet outdoors - and that includes gardens and other private outdoor spaces - as long as you maintain that two metres social distancing rule. Overnight stays at other households is still not allowed, with Johnson saying "we're not at that stage" yet.
Video credit: BBC News
"These changes meant that friends and family can start to meet their loved ones - perhaps seeing both parents at once or both grandparents at once. And I know that for many people this will be a long-awaited and joyful moment.
"But I must stress, that to control the virus, everyone needs to stay alert, act responsibly, strictly observe social distancing rules, and stay two metres apart from those you do not live with."
The Prime Minister said that minimising contact with others is still the best way to keep a lid on transmission of the virus, and advised that you should "avoid seeing people from too many households in quick succession" to avoid the risk of "quick transmission between lots of different families" and "continue to control the virus." So if you want to be able to do some measure of socialising this summer, keep observing social distancing rules, keep scrubbing those hands, and keep being aware that the virus won't have magically dissipated into the ether starting from Monday. To that end, if you're in a vulnerable group and are shielding, continue to do so. Prof Chris Whitty, the UK government's chief medical adviser, added that hand-washing is still "essential", saying:
"If someone was to go into the loo because they had to do that, it's absolutely critical that they wipe everything down, wash their hands all the way through.
"If you were to do something like a barbecue, remember that passing things from one person to another, if you haven't washed your hands, you can pass the virus that way."
It's important to highlight that while you may be visiting another household under the relaxed rules, you shouldn't be spending time inside the other person's home "other than to access the garden or use the toilet," and clean up after yourself, as Whitty said.
The NHS Test and Trace system has also gone live this week - without the app, which is expected to launch in June - and has already ruffled feathers with threats of fines, while members of the government are taking COVID-19 road trips across the country while barely able to see, and managing to not get sacked, fined, or reprimanded by police to the extent any other private citizen would be.
As well as social contact, the other areas that will see lockdown laws ease up are schools and retail. A lot of the speech was rehashing points previously covered, but the June 1 return to school date for Year 1 and Year 6 was repeated, with June 15 seeing secondary schools, sixth forms, and colleges providing "face-to-face contact time for Year 10 and 12 and the equivalent groups in further education" to help prep for exams next year. There has been push-back on the schools reopening from local councils, and as many as 1,500 could remain closed in defiance of the decision. The good news is that there won't be any penalties of you opt not to send your kids back, so that's up to your discretion right now.
Restarting the economy was also touched on again; outdoor markets and car showrooms can open up on June 1 (as long as premises are made 'Covid secure') and all non-essential shops can reopen from June 15, as long as the five tests continue to be met. Meanwhile, dentists can also open their doors starting from Monday, June 1, as long as they implement the appropriate safety measures.
In Wales, people from two different households can meet outdoors from Monday, June 1, which will be a welcome change as it's been illegal for groups of more than two people to mingle. In Scotland, people from two different households can meet outdoors starting today, and in no more than groups of eight. [BBC News, GOV.UK]
Feature image credit: Unsplash