Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Customers at a pub in London, April 12, 2021. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that as of May 17 pubs and restaurants in England can resume indoor service

Mary Turner/The New York Times News Service

Much of Britain will take a major step toward normality next week when the government lifts a host of lockdown restrictions in England and permits people to hug each other, drink a pint in a pub and watch a movie in a cinema.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that as of May 17, pubs and restaurants in England can resume indoor service and other venues will be allowed to reopen, including movie theatres, conference centres, concert halls, museums and sports stadiums – albeit with a limited number of spectators. People will also be able to travel around the country and stay overnight. Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which manage their own health care services, are set to introduce similar measures.

“This unlocking amounts to a very considerable step on the road back to normality and I am confident that we will be able to go further,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during a televised news conference. Mr. Johnson urged people to remain careful about their interactions, including when it came to hugging.

Story continues below advertisement

“You should do it if you think it’s appropriate and if you think the risks are very low, but you should exercise common sense,” he said. “I think whoever I hug, [it] will be done with caution and restraint – I am not going to act it out now.”

Mr. Johnson added that the government was on track to lift or modify all remaining restrictions on June 21, including easing rules governing where face masks must be worn and potentially ending the requirement to keep at least one metre apart.

Britain has seen a steady decline in infections, deaths and hospitalizations in recent weeks as the country’s vaccination rollout ramped up. More than two-thirds of adults have received one dose of vaccine and nearly 18 million people have had two shots. The government expects that every adult will be offered a dose by the end of July.

The results so far have been better than many health experts expected. On Monday, the government reported 2,357 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths – a stark comparison to more than 60,000 infections and 1,500 deaths some days in January when a new variant of the virus began to spread across the country. Hospitalizations have also dropped to the lowest level since last July.

On Monday, Britain’s leading health officials lowered the country’s COVID-19 alert level from 4 to 3, signalling that the virus was no longer spreading exponentially. Level 3 indicates the epidemic “is in general circulation.”

“Thanks to the efforts of the U.K. public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination program, case numbers, deaths and COVID hospital pressures have fallen consistently,” said a statement from the Chief Medical Officers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“We’re in a better position now because of falling [infection] rates and a good vaccination program, which I would anticipate will just continue to increasingly protect our population,” said Sharon Peacock, a professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge and director of the COVID-19 Genomics U.K. Consortium, which has been tracking variants of the virus.

Story continues below advertisement

Dr. Peacock cautioned that scientists and health experts remain concerned about mutations of the virus, particularly the variant that first surfaced in India, known as B.1.617.2. It has been designated a “variant of concern” in the U.K. and health officials said there were 520 confirmed cases of the variant, up from 202 on April 28.

Dr. Peacock said there was no evidence that the B.1.617.2 variant was more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 mutation, which was first detected outside London last November and is now the dominant form of the virus in the U.K. “It’s at least as equal to B.1.1.7,” she told a media briefing on Monday. She added that it was also unclear if the variant causes more severe illness.

Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said the B.1.617.2 variant appears to be slightly better at evading vaccines, but that immunization still provided good protection against severe illness.

“On an individual level, vaccination is still fantastic and works,” he told the briefing. “In terms of controlling transmission, there may be a degree of compromise and that will feed into the estimates of transmissibility.”

Along with the public-health benefits, the vaccination program has also given Mr. Johnson and his Conservative Party a political boost.

The Tories scored major victories in 143 local council elections held last Thursday. Ballot counting took longer because of COVID-19 restrictions, and by Monday the final results showed that the Conservatives had picked up more than 290 council seats, largely at the expense of the Labour Party.

Story continues below advertisement

The Tories also won mayoralty contests in areas that had been dominated by Labour for decades, and took a by-election for a seat at Westminster in Hartlepool, a riding in northern England that had been represented by a Labour member of Parliament since 1974.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies