Free Hugs: Embracing Loved Ones Allowed in England from Next Week, Minister Says

Portrait of mother and daughter cuddling in park during coronavirus pandemic - stock photo
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Senior minister Michael Gove has said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should be announcing on Monday that from May 17th, people in England will be permitted to hug their loved ones as part of the next phase of unlocking the country.

The BBC’s Andrew Marr asked Mr Gove on Sunday whether there would be an end to restrictions on people hugging or going into each other’s houses, with the Cabinet Office minister responding, “yes”.

“All being well, the prime minister will confirm tomorrow that there will be a relaxation… As we move into stage three of our roadmap, it will be the case that we will see people capable of meeting indoors,” Mr Gove said on The Andrew Marr Show.

“It is also the case that friendly contact, or intimate contact, between friends and family is something that we want to see restored,” he added.

Other changes to be seen in step three will see more types of business reopening, including cinemas, and the resumption of indoor hospitality, such as in pubs and restaurants. Indoor sports and exercise classes will also resume. Mask-wearing and social distancing will likely continue, however.

All restrictions are expected to be lifted at stage four by June 21st, and while Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week that he thought there was a “good chance” social distancing would end next month, he would not commit to it. First Secretary of State Dominic Raab also indicated that certain “safeguards” — like social distancing or wearing masks — could still be in place after June 21st.

The prime minister is due to announce on Monday that hugging friends and family will be allowed again this month so long as people use their “common sense”, according to Number 10 insiders speaking to The Telegraph.

After a year of lockdown and social distancing rules, a poll from last month revealed that just eight per cent of Britons said they felt comfortable having contact, such as hugging or shaking hands, with other people when social convention called for it during the pandemic.

Another 21 per cent said they engaged in physical contact out of politeness despite not wanting to, while 11 per cent declined the handshake or hug. More than half, 56 per cent, said they had not found themselves in the position where they felt obliged to touch another person out of politeness.

There have been some unusual by-products of the UK government’s coronavirus regulations regarding social distancing and limiting human intimacy, including those brought in last year that effectively made it illegal for people to have sex indoors if they did not live together as it constituted a “gathering”.

In September, the rules were amended for those in “established relationships” but were reversed the following month for those living in high-coronavirus infection areas.

Restrictions have also had a devastating impact on older people living in care homes, who have not been allowed in-person visits for several months.

Though recent rule changes have meant seniors can leave the care homes and go for walks or visit their relatives’ gardens without needing to quarantine for two weeks on return.

However, restrictions include prohibitions on entering buildings except to use the toilet, and outdoor meals during these excursions must be agreed upon with the care home in advance. All visits must also be accompanied by care home staff or a nominated person.


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