LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that groups of up to six people will be able to meet outdoors in England from next Monday, provided strict social distancing guidelines are followed, as part of steps towards easing the country's coronavirus lockdown.
The devolved administration of Scotland has begun easing its lockdown from Friday, which allows people from two households to meet outside so long as they keep at least two metres apart.
The changes come in over two months after the UK went into lockdown to control the spread of the deadly virus on March 23 and has resulted in a death toll of over 37,800.
Downing Street said the changes are part of a 'carefully-designed package' to ease the burden of lockdown in a way that is expected to keep the R rate or rate of infection down.
'We know that transmission of the virus is far lower outdoors, so we can confidently allow more interaction outside,' said Johnson.
'I want to reaffirm that fundamental commitment to the British people that all the steps we have taken, and will take, are conditional. They are conditional on all the data, and all the scientific advice, and it is that scientific advice which will help us to judge what we are doing is safe,' he said.
He stressed that the government will be monitoring how the new changes are working, and look at the R rate and the number of new infections before taking any further steps to avert the risk of a second peak of the virus.
As part of measures to reopen the economy, a series of measures will be put in place from next Monday in three core areas schools, retail, and social contact.
Primary schools, nurseries and other early year school settings will be reopened from June 1 and from June 15, secondary schools and colleges will begin to provide some face-to-face contact time to help students prepare for exams next year.
Thousands of high street shops, department stores and shopping centres will also begin to reopen next month.
Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be able to reopen from Monday, provided they meet COVID-19 secure guidelines to protect shoppers and workers.
Other non-essential retail can operate from June 15, also under secure guidelines.
Minimising contact with others is still the best way to prevent transmission.
The Prime Minister is clear that people should try to avoid seeing people from too many households in quick succession 'so that we can avoid the risk of quick transmission between lots of different families and continue to control the virus,' Downing Street said.
A new National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace programme, launched on Thursday, is aimed at tracking new infections in a more localised way to help ease the lockdown while keeping a check on the spread of the virus.
The government had set five tests for a phased exit from the lockdown, including monitoring the pressure on the NHS and the rate of infection, and said that the new measures will continuously be checked against those five tests.
Any of the new measures face being reversed if the rate of infection is seen to spike again.(THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)