Outdoor freedoms boosted in major easing of England’s Covid-19 restrictions

UK’s Johnson urges caution as some lockdown measures ease

Groups of up to six, or two households, can socialise in parks and gardens once more, while outdoor sports facilities can reopen after the stay-at-home order ended on Monday.

The previous "stay at home" order is being scrapped in favour of "stay local" guidelines, with people still urged to work from home if possible and minimise their journeys.

England is taking its first tentative step out of the pandemic-induced lockdown this Monday, as the "stay at home" order is lifted to allow groups of six people or as two households to meet outdoors, and amateur outdoor sports to resume.

United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson stressed that people "must remain cautious", with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout, while warm weather was excepted to accompany the relaxation.

It is the second major easing of England's lockdown imposed in early January, with schools having been reopened to all pupils on March 8.

Sports facilities including basketball courts, tennis courts and golf courses can also reopen, while formally organised sports activity can recommence.

Boris Johnson said: "Despite today's easements, everyone must continue to stick to the rules - remember "hands, face, space", and come forward for a vaccine when called".

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said: "The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors". The four-stage reopening was to be contingent on continued vaccinations, no surge in hospitalisations, and new virus variants not emerging.

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Mr Johnson, who will hold a press conference later on Monday, said that as vaccines were rolled out "it's vital that we don't overdo it and risk all the progress we've made".

A new slogan was also unveiled to stress the importance of ventilation in reducing the spread of the virus: "Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air". Over the weekend, Scotland Yard urged the public to remain cautious and warned that large gatherings, unless certain exemptions apply, will remain unlawful.

Britain's vaccination programme has been one of the most successful in the world but there are concerns over supplies, high infections rates in parts of Europe and the ongoing emergence of new coronavirus variants.

As part of Johnson's roadmap, the next stage in the relaxation of the rules will take place no earlier than April 12, with non-essential retail reopening, and restaurants and pubs allowed to serve outdoors.

It is estimated that 57% of the United Kingdom population have now received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and the latest daily cases have dropped to levels last seen in September 2020.

Also allowed to resume activities will be indoor leisure, like swimming pools and gyms.

From April 5, click-and-collect retail services, along with garden centres, auto dealerships, homeware stores and barbers and hairdressers, will also be able to reopen.

Outdoor weddings are allowed, with up to six people in attendance. In Wales, thousands of people poured onto beaches and mountain spots on Saturday, after the authorities lifted travel restrictions that have been in place since December.

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