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UK lockdown restrictions ease amid Covid-19 variant concerns




DESPITE concerns over the spread of a more infectious Covid-19 variant, most of the UK took a step towards normality on Monday (17) with lockdown restrictions being eased.

Across England, Wales and most of Scotland, full indoor hospitality in pubs, restaurants and cafes returned, and cinemas, theatres and sports venues were to open their doors for the first time in months.

However, easing will not come until May 24 for Northern Ireland.

People can also go on holiday abroad to selected countries including Portugal or on overnight domestic trips.

Groups of people can also meet inside private houses with some restrictions but there is no requirement for social distancing, meaning hugs are now allowed.

“Together we have reached another milestone in our roadmap out of lockdown, but we must take this next step with a heavy dose of caution,” prime minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday (16).

In a tweet on Monday (17) he urged the public: “Please be cautious about the risks to your loved ones, remember that close contact, such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease.”

While opting not to delay Monday’s (17) easing, Johnson has warned the planned complete lifting of Covid-19 measures on June 21 could be put in jeopardy by a more transmissible variant that was first detected in India.

“We are keeping the spread of the variant first identified in India under close observation and taking swift action where infection rates are rising,” Johnson said on Sunday (16).

His message on the need for caution and taking up vaccination was reflected in tabloid headlines.

“Don’t blow it, Britain,” wrote the Daily Mail while the Daily Mirror had “Happy hours for now” and The Sun ran with the punning headline: “Get the shots in” over pictures of a syringe and a woman drinking from a shot glass.

Accelerated vaccinations

On Sunday (16), Johnson said government data did not show the public National Health Service (NHS) under too much pressure.

He added that second vaccine doses would be brought forward to protect the over-50s and clinically vulnerable people as measures are lifted and a new variant spreads.

“There’s nothing in the evidence now that we’ve seen that suggests the vaccine isn’t very effective against the Indian variant,” business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News on Monday (17) morning.

Kwarteng cautioned against rushing to travel abroad, saying: “Yes, you can go to another country, but it would probably be advisable at this stage not to.”

Britain, one of the worst-hit countries in the world with over 127,000 deaths, has also seen a rapid deployment of vaccines with over 20 million people now fully vaccinated.

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