Most of the UK is taking an important step towards normality on Monday as coronavirus restrictions are eased, despite concerns about the spread of a more transmissible variant of the disease.
Throughout England, Wales and most of Scotland, indoor hospitality is back in pubs, restaurants and cafes and cinemas, museums and sports venues are set to open their doors for the first time in months.
But relief will only take place for Northern Ireland on 24 May.
People and families will also be able to meet certain restrictions in private homes, and international travel will resume to select countries, including Portugal.
“Together we have reached a new milestone in our roadmap without closing, but we must take this next step with a great deal of caution,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday.
“We are closely monitoring the distribution of the variant first identified in India and are rapidly recording where infection rates are rising,” he added.
While Johnson enforced Monday’s mitigation, Johnson warned last week that the complete lifting of the Covid-19 measures on June 21 could be jeopardized by a more transferable variant first found in India.
– Accelerated vaccinations –
Johnson said Sunday that government data does not show the Public Health Service (NHS) is under too much pressure.
He added that the second vaccine doses would be brought forward to protect those over 50 and clinically vulnerable people as measures are lifted and a new variant is introduced.
Britain, one of the worst-hit countries in the world with more than 127,000 deaths, has also seen a rapid deployment of vaccinations with more than 20 million people now fully vaccinated.
According to government data, the variant that first appeared in India is spreading in Britain with cases of tension rising from 520 to 1,313 last week, around the northern towns of Bolton and Blackburn.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government could “stay on track” thanks to a “high degree of confidence” that the vaccines could withstand the stress.
He also said that the “vast majority” of people in the hospital in Bolton were eligible for the new variant but did not come forward.
-‘Spread like a wildfire’-
Hancock warned that the new strain could ‘spread like wildfire among the non-vaccinated groups’ and did not rule out localized restrictions.
The western city of Glasgow and the north-eastern Moray region of Scotland maintain the existing restrictions due to an increase in cases.
Last week, Johnson committed himself to a full, independent public inquiry into the handling of the coronavirus by his government.
He is accused of having a third national exclusion in early January because the increasing Covid-19 infections caused hospital admissions and death rates to rise.
Experts and opposition politicians also blamed Johnson for not restricting India’s travel earlier, as Covid-19 argued there.
But the Conservative government’s popularity has enjoyed a ‘vaccination of a vaccine’ from the blast, with a strong showing in local elections in England.
Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday that “one of the highest admission rates in the world” was crucial for rapid progress.