Outdoor reunions with family and friends could take place within weeks under plans for the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England, reports suggest.
Boris Johnson is spending the weekend finalising plans for a “roadmap” out of lockdown, with reports indicating that he will announce plans on Monday to permit two households to meet in gardens or parks by Easter. It is thought that two households will be able to mix regardless of the number of people.
The reports also suggest that six people from six different households could also be allowed to meet.
However, households who live further apart might not be allowed to mix, as it is unclear whether the guidance instructing people to remain local will be lifted.
Downing Street has not formally confirmed the reports, but a No 10 source told the BBC that reuniting families and increasing social contact was an “absolute priority”.
It comes after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, announced that care home residents in England would be allowed to receive indoor visits from a single named family member or friend from 8 March.
The visitor will be tested for coronavirus beforehand and wear PPE, but will be allowed to hold hands with the resident. However, any closer contact would be strongly discouraged.
There is also pressure from businesses to ease restrictions more quickly, with the chief executive of the fast-food chain Leon warning that extending lockdown would “cost lives”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, John Vincent said that business were “at the heart of a functioning and healthy society” and were losing money which could be going to employees and the government through taxes.
He accused the government of failing to produce a “holistic cost-benefit analysis”, asking: “Therefore, how can we be making this decision about the impacts on the young today and for their futures? How can we make [decisions about] the impacts of the huge economic destruction which is costing lives? When we lose our economy we lose lives.”
As part of the easing of restrictions, primary and secondary schools in England are set to reopen on 8 March, despite strong concerns from teaching unions that it is not yet safe enough for a full reopening.
In a joint statement, nine unions described the move as “reckless”, warning that it could lead to another surge in coronavirus cases and calling for a more “cautious” and phased return to school.
It comes amid falling, albeit still high, infection rates across the UK, with daily new cases falling to 12,072 on Friday after a peak of more than 50,000 last month. The number of lives lost to coronavirus is also falling, standing at 533 people on Friday after reaching nearly double that in January.
The full roadmap for England’s route out of lockdown will be finalised on Sunday at a meeting of the government’s Covid strategy committee, with the full cabinet set to rubber-stamp it before it is announced by Johnson in the Commons at about 3.30pm on Monday.
Prof Susan Michie, a participant in the Sage and Independent Sage advisory groups, said the government faced a difficult choice in their approach to easing lockdown.
“On one hand, there’s lifting restrictions but facing what we had last year, a yo-yo situation of in and out of more and less restrictive restrictions, or open up very gradually, monitoring the situation with clear indicators as we go, and only opening up the next wave of restrictions if it seems to be safe,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
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