July 28, 2021


Keep Fit & Healthy

Lockdown changes in full: Everything you can and can’t do from May 17 in England

9 min read

England’s lockdown rules will enjoy their biggest single easing yet from Monday 17 May, Boris Johnson has announced.

The Prime Minister confirmed England is now meeting the “four tests” to move to Step Three of the roadmap next week.

From next Monday, hugging between people from different bubbles will be allowed for the first time in 15 months

People will be able to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30 people – up from just six now.

And crucially, people from different households or bubbles can meet indoors socially for the first time.

These indoor gatherings will be limited to six people or a maximum of two households or bubbles – whichever is larger.

You'll be able to go inside the pub for the first time since January - and for many people, even longer ago
You’ll be able to go inside the pub for the first time since January – and for many people, even longer ago

That means pubs, bars and restaurants can reopen indoors for the first time since the New Year.

But venues will still have to follow social distancing rules and table service only, while masks will remain.

Likewise, the legal ban on travel outside the UK will be lifted – but there’s still a maze of different rules.

And school pupils will no longer have to wear masks in class or corridors – but should still get tested twice a week.

Boris Johnson told a No10 press conference it was the biggest single change to lockdown – just as figures show the number of UK cases of the India variant have more than doubled in a week, to 520.

He said it was a “very considerable unlocking” and “there will be a lot of extra movement, a lot of extra contact” as a result.

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said deaths should stay low as older people have now mostly been vaccinated, but “there is a risk of significant spread amongst those in the younger age groups”.

So what can and can’t you do under England’s lockdown changes? Here’s a full rundown from May 17.

You can finally hug loved ones again

From May 17, the government will axe guidance in place since March 2020 that says people should stay two metres apart from anyone outside their household or bubble.

With a third of adults having both vaccine doses, people will instead be told they can choose whether to socially distance from family and close friends.

This means people can choose to hug, kiss or shake hands with friends or relatives in the park or in a home.

People will be allowed to hug, but should still exercise personal judgement
People will be allowed to hug, but should still exercise personal judgement

People do not have to take a lateral flow test before hugging, but it’s one way of reducing the spread of the disease. Likewise people could meet outdoors or with the windows open, or wear masks.

There is no limit to the amount of time you can spend with people in a day, or the time spent in a pub or restaurant.

Officials say this change is a move towards “living with” coronavirus into the future – and it does NOT mean social distancing rules have been scrapped.

Close contact with an infectious person is still the most likely way to catch Covid-19 and the vaccine is not 100% effective.

Broader social distancing rules, including in public venues like pubs and restaurants, will remain until at least June 21 – more of this below.

You can stay overnight with friends and family

A man hugging his grandson (stock photo)
A man hugging his grandson (stock photo)

From May 17, people from different households or bubbles will be allowed to meet indoors for the first time since the New Year.

This must be in a maximum group of up to six people or two households – whichever is larger. The six-person limit includes babies and children, they’re not exempt.

However, this change means that for the first time since January, you can visit family elsewhere in England and stay the night (without being in a tent).

You can have sex with someone you don’t already live with

The indoor meetings ban is being lifted, and guidance against any social contact is being eased. Taken together this means casual sex is back on.

But people are still being advised to make personal judgements in line with the risks. It doesn’t mean you should go around touching anyone you meet.

It appears casual sex is back on the table. Or the bed.
It appears casual sex is back on the table. Or the bed.

You can go indoors at pubs and restaurants – in groups of six

The rule of six indoors applies equally to hospitality venues such as pubs, restaurants and cafes, as it does to private homes.

This means they will be allowed to open indoors on May 17 for the first time since the New Year.

As with private homes, there will still be a maximum gathering size of six people or two households at each table.

Pubs will also be table service only, so you can’t prop up the bar.

You’ll also need to wear a face mask when walking around between tables, and scan in on entry using the NHS Covid-19 app.

But there is no need to order a “substantial meal” with a drink any more.

You can have parties of up to 30 people outdoors

The current limit of six people for outdoor gatherings will be removed on May 17.

Instead, there will only be a much higher legal limit of 30 people for outdoor gatherings, except for some organised events as outlined below.

This will mean large groups are once again allowed to gather in parks like last summer.

Prepare for a summer of garden parties
Prepare for a summer of garden parties

You can go on holiday properly in England

Currently, only self-contained holiday accommodation can open in England – and people can only stay with their own bubble.

Once you can stay overnight with people from different bubbles on May 17, that means hotels, B&Bs and other holiday venues like hostels can reopen.

England’s domestic tourism industry is allowed to be back in business.

You can go on holiday abroad – but it’s severely limited

The legal ban on taking a holiday outside the UK will be lifted on May 17 and travel will be allowed.

However, Brits returning from the vast majority of countries will have to isolate on their return, either at home or in a £1,750-a-head hotel.

Only ‘green list’ countries will be exempt from this and there are currently only a tiny handful of countries on the list, including Portugal and Israel.

Most of the countries on the UK’s green list still require Brits to isolate when they get to that country, making holiday plans worthless.

And even if you can travel without quarantine at either end, you’ll have to fork out your own money for Covid tests to comply with travel rules.

However, restrictions are widely expected to ease quite quickly as we move into June and July.

You can go on holiday - but chances are it'll be a huge faff, and the government is advising against travel to the amber or red lists
You can go on holiday – but chances are it’ll be a huge faff, and the government is advising against travel to the amber or red lists

You can stop making your kids wear masks at school

Face coverings for pupils will no longer be recommended in secondary schools or colleges from May 17 – either in classrooms or communal areas.

Face masks could return in some schools if there are local outbreaks, as officials admit some discretion will be needed.

Twice weekly home testing for school pupils will remain to control infection rates.

Secondary pupils have been wearing masks in corridors and classrooms since March
Secondary pupils have been wearing masks in corridors and classrooms since March

You can return to university… just in time for the year to end

University students on non-practical courses can finally return to in-person teaching and learning from May 17.

That is despite the fact students’ academic years will be over or nearly over by then.

All students and staff will be encouraged to take three rapid “lateral flow” tests, supervised on-site, about three to four days apart.

They’ll then be expected to test themselves twice a week for the remainder of the term.

You can go to a funeral without worrying about a 30-person limit

The cap on mourners at funerals will be axed ahead of schedule on May 17.

Currently funerals can only have 30 attendees while wakes are limited to 15. Instead of a 30-person limit, venues will decide how many people can attend safely while still keeping up social distancing rules.

That means two metres between mourners, or one metre plus mitigations like masks, screens and ventilation – although evidently, hugging is now allowed.

Wakes will still have a cap of 30 people.

The Queen abided by Covid distancing rules at Prince Philip's funeral
The Queen abided by Covid distancing rules at Prince Philip’s funeral

You can go to a big stadium event or theatre show

Fans can return to sports fixtures in Step Three, with outdoor venues permitted capacities of 4,000 people or half-full, whichever is lower.

In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend, or grounds can be a quarter-full, whichever is fewer.

Fans can attend larger performances and sporting events indoors, with capacities of 1,000 people or half-full, whichever is fewer.

Other events have already been taking place – with bigger crowds and no social distancing – but they’re part of a special pilot scheme and people must get negative tests to enter.

You can go to a sauna or steam room

Gyms and spas were allowed to open at the last stage of the roadmap, but their saunas and steam rooms had to remain shut.

Now they can restart – as can indoor group sports and exercise classes, which were restricted to outdoors-only before.

You can go to museums and children’s play areas

Remaining outdoor entertainment, such as outdoor theatres and cinemas, can reopen in Step Three.

And so can indoor entertainment, such as museums and children’s play areas.

You can go to the cinema – but you have to wear a mask

Cinemas can finally reopen for the first time in around five months on May 17.

But film-lovers will have to wear masks through the show, unless they are eating or drinking at the time. Perhaps making popcorn-eaters even more annoying.

Cinema-goers will need to wear masks.... unless they're eating popcorn
Cinema-goers will need to wear masks…. unless they’re eating popcorn

You can go to parent and child groups – and your kids won’t count towards the limit

Parent and child groups can resume with up to 30 attendees.

And unlike the other caps on gatherings, babies and children under five do not count towards the 30-person limit in these groups.

That means 30 mums or dads can attend, and take their kids with them.

You can have more visitors in a care home

Care home visiting will be eased further, with residents able to have up to five named visitors – up from two now.

These named visitors can make regular visits and physical contact, although they should get a negative rapid test and wear PPE before visiting.

Residents will also be able to make “low risk” trips outside their home without isolating for 14 days when they get back – a policy that caused outrage.

You CAN’T break social distancing in the pub

Wider social distancing rules and regulations remain in place – such as in social care, shops and pubs and restaurants.

Pubs and restaurants will still have to obey the one-metre-plus rule, where people stay two metres apart or one metre with mitigations like a perspex screen.

Laws ordering venue owners to ensure customers are following the rules remain the same, despite the relaxation on hugging within a group.

You CAN’T go around hugging everyone

Importantly, the new hugging guidance is aimed at people meeting within legally-allowed group sizes – six indoors, 30 outdoors.

It does not apply to people from two different small gatherings hugging, or strangers hugging in the street or a pub.

People will be told to exercise their own personal judgement in line with the risks.

They will be urged to remain cautious, because some people are more vulnerable to severe illness than others and vaccines do not eliminate the risk from Covid.

Boris Johnson said: “This doesn’t mean we can suddenly throw caution to the winds. In fact, more than a year into this pandemic we all know close contact such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease.

Boris Johnson said: “This doesn’t mean we can suddenly throw caution to the winds"
Boris Johnson said: “This doesn’t mean we can suddenly throw caution to the winds”

“So I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones, whether they’ve had a vaccine, one or two doses, or whether there’s been time for that vaccine to take effect.

“Remember outdoors is always safer than indoors, and if you’re meeting indoors, remember to open a window and let in the fresh air.

“Keep getting tested regularly even if you don’t have symptoms so you don’t spread the virus without knowing it.”

You CAN’T go to the office, unless you have to

Government guidance will remain to work from home wherever possible until at least June 21.

A review of social distancing rules more widely is taking place no earlier than that date.

You CAN’T have a full-scale wedding – or dance at it

Weddings, receptions, wakes and other life events like bar mitzvahs can now proceed with up to 30 people.

Hugging will be allowed at weddings, in line with people’s own assessment of risk, but dancing and dance floors will not.

Venues must also accord with social distancing rules. And the 30-person cap on weddings and receptions is not set to be lifted until June 21 at the earliest.

People can however hold weddings anywhere it’s legally acceptable to hold weddings – such as indoor venues at last, and back gardens in some cases.

You CAN’T take your mask off on transport, shops or other venues

It will remain a legal requirement to wear a face mask in shops, public transport and other indoor public settings, with offenders facing a £200 fine.

This might be axed from June 21 but we don’t know that yet. Exemptions remain for under-11s and people who have a medical reason, as ever.

You CAN’T go clubbing

Nightclubs remain shut until the next stage of the roadmap. The government is hoping to reopen them from June 21, with punters showing their vaccination status or taking a rapid test on entry.

You CAN’T have a proper house party

The limit on indoor gatherings remains six people or two households. Unless you have very few friends, that means you can’t have a house party. Garden parties are on, though.

You CAN’T go on holiday to most countries, really

People can travel to green list countries from May 17, as set out above.

The legal ban on all foreign leisure travel will be lifted, meaning people can legally to go amber or red list countries.

But the government guidance will remain NOT to travel to amber or red list countries, despite it being legal.

A new version of the NHS Covid-19 app should go live on May 17 allowing people to show their vaccine status for travel.

If they cannot get the app, people will be able to ask the NHS for a letter verifying their vaccine status to show to foreign countries demanding proof.

A ‘Covid passport’ for domestic use in the UK will only come later and is still in development.

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