Families and friends will be allowed to hug each other from next Monday in the biggest relaxation of Covid rules in England in more than a year.
It will be the first time that family and friends who do not live together are routinely allowed to hug within groups since Boris Johnson ordered the first lockdown in March 2020.
From May 17, people will be allowed to meet indoors for the first time in months in groups of six, or two households if that is larger, while limits will be raised to allow 30 people to gather together outside.
Within those individual groups, social distancing will become optional and a matter of personal judgment, the prime minister has announced.
But health, social care, retail, hospitality, businesses and other venues will still need to maintain social distancing between different groups.
It comes almost exactly a year after health secretary Matt Hancock said hugging would not be allowed until a treatment or coronavirus vaccine was developed.
Now that the UK has given at least one vaccine jab to more than two thirds of British adults and more than 17m people have received a second dose, the rules around close contact can be relaxed.
The vaccine programme and lengthy third lockdown’s success at reducing infection rates to their lowest level since September, and deaths and hospitalisation to the lowest level since July, also allows a significant reopening of society.
But people are being urged to remain cautious about the risks that come with close personal contact such as hugging as it is one of the most direct ways of transmitting the virus, which can spread without symptoms.
The government is also urging people to remember that vaccines do not completely eliminate the risk of severe illness among vulnerable people.
From next Monday step three of the road map out of lockdown will go ahead, allowing the majority of business sectors to reopen, including pubs, cafes and restaurants indoors.
Indoor entertainment such as cinemas, museums and children’s play areas will also reopen.
Theatres, gig venues, conference centres and sports stadia can also reopen, with larger events able to resume with capacity limits.
Indoor adult sports, saunas and steam rooms will also reopen.
So will hotels, hostels and B&Bs, while domestic overnight stays will be allowed in groups of up to six people, or two households.
Weddings, receptions and life events can resume with 30 people, and the cap on numbers attending funerals will be lifted.
With Covid cases declining among students and staff in schools, face masks will be scrapped in classrooms and communal areas in schools and colleges, and university students can return to-in person teaching.
Both school pupils and university students will continue to test themselves at home for Covid twice a week.
The ban on travelling abroad will also end, and people will be able to travel to so-called “green list” countries, while following the restrictions that remain in place for foreign trips.