Covid Rules: All The Things You Can Do From May 17

"Cautious" hugs and indoor gatherings are back.

Lockdown is easing again in England – and we no longer need to watch the weather forecast like a hawk before making social plans.

The reintroduction of mixing indoors is probably the biggest change and applies to private homes as well as public spaces including pubs and cafes.

Boris Johnson confirmed the relaxation of rules in a press conference on May 10. Here’s everything that’s changing from May 17.

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You can go in other people’s houses again

From May 17, you can meet with friends and family indoors – a welcome change for those who’ve sat outdoors in the rain in recent weeks.

Indoors, the rule of six will apply, or you can exceed six people if the total group contains just two households (e.g. eight people made from two families of four).

Hospitality venues will open indoors

Goodbye windy, outdoors tables. Hospitality settings including pubs, restaurants and cafes are once again allowed to welcome customers indoors. There won’t be any mingling around the bar just yet, though – customers have to order, eat and drink while seated.

You can “cautiously” hug your mates

Hugging is finally back – sort of. People will have the choice on whether to socially distance with close family and friends, the prime minister said – but you’ll be “urged to remain cautious about the risks that come with close personal contact”.

Wider social distancing rules will remain in place in adult social care, medical, retail, hospitality and business settings.

Kids won’t have to wear masks in schools

Face coverings for pupils will no longer be recommended in classrooms or in communal areas in secondary schools and colleges. However, twice weekly home testing will remain to control infection rates. Uni students are all eligible to return to in-person teaching, and should get tested twice a week.

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Indoor entertainment is back

Indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas and children’s play areas are returning. Capacity may be limited – seats removed or cordoned off at the cinema to allow for social distancing, for example – so it’s a good idea to book in advance. Museums are also reopening.

Gatherings of 30 people outdoors

Outdoor gatherings have been subject to the rule of six (or two households), but from May 17, outdoor gatherings of up to 30 people will be permitted. Expect garden parties and mass picnics in the park – just remember to maintain social distancing.

Gym classes and indoor fitness facilities return

Breathe a sigh of relief if you’re clueless at the gym without an instructor to follow, because group classes for adults are back (kids’ classes were already allowed). Dance studios and yoga studios are also reopening their doors for groups sessions, alongside other indoor fitness facilities, such as climbing walls and swimming pools.

Care home visits are easing

Restrictions in care homes are easing further, with people able to have up to five named visitors and more freedom to make “low risk visits” out of the home.

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Foreign travel resumes

The ban on “all but essential travel” is lifting, but you’ll need to contend with the new traffic light system if you’re planning a summer holiday. Destinations have been designated a colour – green, amber, or red – depending on their Covid risk. Each colour has different rules regarding testing and quarantine, so check before you book.

Domestic travel is bigger and better

All remaining accommodation in England – including hotels, hostels and B&Bs – can re-open. And because of the rule of six, this now means domestic overnight stays will be allowed in groups of up to six people or two households.

Performances and sporting events are back

The government will allow some larger performances and sporting events in indoor venues with a capacity of 1,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number), and in outdoor venues with a capacity of 4,000 people or half-full (whichever is a lower number).

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

Weddings of 30 people

A long-awaited change for couples who’ve postponed multiple times, weddings and receptions of up to 30 people will now be permitted. This limit will also apply to other types of “significant life events” including bar mitzvahs and christenings. The cap on the numbers attending funerals will be lifted, in line with how many people can be safely accommodated in venues.

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What’s happening in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

The rule changes set out above are for England, but the rules are different across the UK, so check what’s happening near you before making plans.

In most of Scotland, for example, rules for meeting have also eased a little: six people from three households can meet in your home or theirs – and can now stay overnight; while six people from three households cab meet in an indoor public place such as a pub. Outdoor gatherings are still limited to eight people (but from up to eight households). Stricter rules remain in Glasgow and Moray. The full Scottish instructions can be found here.

In Wales, indoor meetings between two different households are permitted, exercise classes have already resumed and outdoor attractions such as zoos and theme parks will reopen. Indoor eating and drinking is now allowed, and cinemas, museums and galleries are reopening. View the rules for Wales here.

The current restrictions in Northern Ireland are due to be reviewed on May 20 and an indicative date of May 24 has been set to allow the mixing of households in private dwellings. Read the latest NI regulations here.