When and where can I meet friends and family? What the new lockdown rules mean for socialising outside

From Monday, 29 March, the next stage of the Government’s roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions began in England. For many, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a press briefing, it was “the first chance to see friends and family outdoors”.

Friends in groups of six or two households are now once again allowed to meet up outside in public spaces and in their private gardens.

Outdoor sports facilities can reopen and weddings can take place, with the number of attendees totalling no more than six. 

So what exactly do the latest measures look like and how do they affect families and friends?

What does the roadmap plan mean for friends and families and what can I do now?

There are four different ‘stages’ of the roadmap plan, and the changes that take effect from March 29 comprise the second phase of the first stage, which began on March 8. 

From that initial date, all children in England were able to return to school, both primary and secondary, and people were allowed to meet friends one-to-one outside in public spaces to socialise and not just to exercise.  What exactly can I do from March 29?

The “rule of six” has now been reinstated, which allows six friends from up to six different households to meet outdoors, not only in public spaces but also in private gardens.

Two households are also allowed to meet outside. This means that extended outdoor family get-togethers can happen by Easter Sunday,. Also from March 29, organised outdoor sport for adults and children is permitted again. 

From this date, it is no longer a legal requirement to stay at home. It is therefore possible to travel beyond one’s local area, meaning a longer drive in a single day to meet a friend or relative outdoors is allowed. 

However, people are still encouraged to minimise travel as much as possible and are still advised to work from home where they can.

When does the next stage of the roadmap plan take effect and what will it mean for friends and families?

Stage two of the roadmap plan is due to be implemented no sooner than April 12. From that date it will be possible to meet outdoors at pubs and restaurants under the same “rule of six” or two-household rules.

Also from that date, the limit on the maximum number of attendees at weddings and wakes will rise from six to 15. Family-focused outdoor hospitality venues such as zoos and theme parks can also open. 

When step three of the roadmap plan is implemented, no sooner than May 17, and provided the scientific data allows it, groups of up to 30 people will be able to attend weddings, receptions, wakes, funerals, and other major life events.

When can we meet friends for a drink again?

At the Conservative Party conference on March 27, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “I’m finally going to be able to go to the barbers, but more importantly than that I’m going to be able to go down the street and – cautiously but irreversibly – I’m going to drink a pint of beer.” 

He and others will be able to do that from April 12, when pubs and restaurants will be allowed to reopen, but only for outdoor drinking and dining

Groups can gather, but with the same limits as above: either up to six people or two households. Pubs will be allowed to serve takeaway pints, and there will be no curfews or any requirement to serve a meal with alcohol.

When will we be able to meet friends and family indoors again?

According to the roadmap plan, the earliest date for the reopening of indoor hospitality (including pubs and restaurants) will be May 17, and only if the scientific data allows it.

Though there have been circumstances throughout lockdown in which you could meet people indoors, for instance, providing voluntary or charitable services, informal childcare assistance and providing emergency assistance, socialising has not been allowed for other purposes.

Adult care home residents are now able to nominate a named visitor to visit them regularly. The visitor and care home resident are allowed to hold hands, but other close contact is not allowed.

The visitor must get a Covid test beforehand and wear PPE. From May 17, the start of the third stage of the roadmap plan, it is expected that groups of up to six people and two households will be allowed to meet indoors, so people can enter each other’s homes from this point.

Will the vaccine roll-out affect the roadmap plan?

The Prime Minister previously announced that every person aged over 18 will have been offered a coronavirus vaccination by the end of July. As the vaccination programme reaches its final stage, ministers and scientists hope infection rates will have returned to the levels seen last summer.

At this point, greater relaxations for indoor mixing are likely. The ongoing dispute with the EU over a potential export ban has cast some uncertainty on the future of the vaccine rollout.

However, the Prime Minister has reassured the public that any potential shortage of supplies will not affect the rollout of second vaccine doses. 

Can grandparents look after their grandchildren?

Households are currently not allowed to mix indoors with the exception of the current support bubbles, which allow one other person, such as an elderly relative, to visit.

This means a grandparent that provides childcare while a parent works, will still be able to continue to do so. 

The Prime Minister has encouraged family and childcare bubbles to get tested regularly.

Can grandparents hug their grandchildren after they’ve had the vaccine?

At a Downing Street briefing on March 29, Prof Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said that even after an individual has received both vaccines, they still have some vulnerability to the virus; furthermore, the effect of the vaccines can take several weeks to kick in.

As it is likely that younger family members whom grandparents would like to hug have not yet been fully vaccinated unless they have a pre-existing health condition, hugging family members outside a bubble is not advisable.

People will not be able to hug again until case numbers are “very, very low”, Sir Mark Walport, a former chief scientific adviser to the Government, said on March 29. “At the end of the day the virus gets from one person to another by proximity and proximity can happen outside as well,” he said.

Social distancing rules will be updated by May 17. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has previously said that loved ones will be able to hug each other from the middle of May at the earliest, stating that people must remain “cautious” until this point.

Will I be able to go on holiday with friends and family this year?

From April 12, “staycations” will be allowed, but in a limited form. One household will be allowed to stay overnight somewhere in the UK, but not with members of another household.

“Self-contained accommodation” will be available to rent, including cottages, Airbnb rentals and campsites. However, hotels and B&Bs cannot reopen until May 17.  Non-essential travel abroad is currently not permitted until July.

Travellers to the UK from “red list” countries must now quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.  But a review into restarting international travel will conclude by May 17, meaning family holidays abroad could yet take place this summer in some form.

For individuals with family members overseas and who are unable to visit them due to travel restrictions, the Prime Minister said on March 29 that there will be no further decisions on when internationally separated families can see each other until an announcement from the Government’s global travel task force on April 5.

More Stories
B&Q owner buys DIY app NeedHelp