Everything you need to know about the new 're-opening rules'

·12 min read

Watch: PM urges 'heavy dose of caution' as hugs, indoor pints and foreign holidays return in England

At long last we can finally enjoy a glass of wine, a cup of coffee or meet our mates for lunch INSIDE - re-opening day is here and we couldn't be more excited. 

From today, we won't have to shiver over our starters or huddle around an outdoor heater as we tuck into sticky toffee pudding. 

Today, Monday 17 May marks the further easing of coronavirus restrictions in England, Wales and most of Scotland, while Northern Ireland will review its measures on Thursday, with a view to lifting more restrictions on 24 May.

A number of businesses in the leisure industry will be reopening for the first time this year, including children's indoor play centres, museums, cinemas and casinos.

Changes in social mixing will also start today, with groups of up to 30 people able to meet outside.

The 'rule of six' or two households will now move indoors, which includes people's homes.

The next phase of relaxation comes despite concerns over the spread of the Indian variant, with the prime minister, Boris Johnson, sticking by plans to allow mixing indoors, hugging and the re-opening of indoor hospitality. 

Mr Johnson said: "We have reached another milestone in our road map out of lockdown, but we must take this next step with a heavy dose of caution."

Read more: How to cope with going back into the office: Reclaim your commute and dodge the politics

You can now meet friends inside a pub. (Getty Images)
You can now meet friends inside a pub. (Getty Images)

In a statement issued on Sunday evening on the lifting of the rules, the PM said: "Everyone must play their part by getting tested twice a week, coming forward for your vaccine when called, and remembering hands, face, space and fresh air.

"I urge everyone to be cautious and take responsibility when enjoying new freedoms today in order to keep the virus at bay."

While today's relaxing of rules has gone ahead, Mr Johnson warned last week that the spread of the Indian variant could make it "more difficult" to achieve the final step in the roadmap in June. 

But for now, we're looking forward to enjoying a little more normality thanks to the re-opening of cinemas, theatres and inside dining, which will hopefully mean an end to pretending we're not frozen to the core for the sake of a night out. 

Re-opening day - what are the rule changes?

England

  • People can now meet indoors in groups of up to six or two households, or in groups of up to 30 outdoors. Overnight stays are allowed

  • Pubs, bars and restaurants can serve customers indoors

  • Museums, cinemas, children's play areas, theatres, concert halls and sports stadiums can all reopen, as can bowling alleys and arcades.

  • Organised adult sports, including gym classes, can begin again.

  • Steam rooms and saunas can reopen.

  • All holiday accommodation, including hotels and B&Bs, can open

  • Social distancing guidance is changing and contact with other households like hugs is a matter of personal choice

Scotland

Unlike England and Wales, Scotland has continued to use a tiered system, meaning different levels of restrictions are imposed depending on local infection levels.

With the exceptions of Moray and Glasgow, which will remain in level three, mainland Scotland is moving to level two restrictions on 17 May. Most Scottish islands will be in level one.

For most of Scotland in level two, restrictions will change to mean the following:

  • People can meet indoors in groups of six from up to three households. Outdoors, up to eight people from eight households can mix. Children under 12 are not included in the number making up a group, but they are included in the number of households.

  • Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues can serve alcohol indoors until 10.30pm

  • Entertainment venues such as cinemas, theatres and bingo halls can reopen and up to 100 people are allowed at indoor events

  • Outdoor adult contact sport and indoor group exercise can restart

  • Up to 50 people can attend weddings and funerals

Orkney, Shetland, Na h-Eileanan Siar, all islands in Highland (except Skye) and the Argyll and Bute islands of Coll, Colonsay, Erraid, Gometra, Iona, Islay, Jura, Mull, Oronsay, Tiree and Ulva will move to level one.

In level one, up to eight people from three households can meet in an indoor public place, while 12 from 12 households can meet outdoors. The limit for weddings and funerals rises to 100 attendees.

As Glasgow and Moray remain in level three, there is no change to restrictions in these areas.

Read more: What to do if you've booked an 'amber list' holiday

Wales

  • Pubs and restaurants can reopen indoors and customers can meet in groups of up to six from up to six households (not including children under 11)

  • All holiday accommodation can reopen

  • Entertainment venues, such as cinemas, bowling alleys, museums, galleries and theatres can reopen

  • Up to 30 people can attend indoor wedding receptions and wakes, while the cap is raised to 50 for organised outdoor events

  • While the rules are easing to allow hospitality venues to serve customers indoors, there is no change to restrictions on indoor socialising in private homes. This is still restricted to extended households, meaning two households can mix with each other (and no one else) and have physical contact.

Watch: People 'should be cautious' when hugging others after COVID-19 restrictions ease. 

A closer look at the restrictions

Cinemas

Cinemas across England, Scotland and Wales will be allowed to reopen from Monday 17 May.

For the first time in months, film fans will be able to head to the cinema to watch the latest flicks on the big screen.

While Vue will be reopening all 88 venues, ODEON has said it is welcoming customers back to the "vast majority" of its sites.

Cineworld plans on welcoming film fans later this week on Wednesday 19 May.

It's worth checking with the cinema chain ahead of time about rules and restrictions, but there are certain new rules cinema-goers will have to follow to minimise the risk of spreading.

The experience for cinema-goers will likely be similar to that of 2020’s brief opening spells. 

In some venues social distancing will be in place, with physically distanced seating meaning there will be unoccupied seats between parties. 

Face masks will also be required in many venues, in some cases even when customers are in their seats, unless they are eating and drinking. 

Start and end times for films may be staggered to regulate crowding, and one-way systems operated throughout the buildings. Face coverings will likely remain mandatory.

Customers are encouraged to book tickets online where possible, to reduce contact with staff.

Since last year, booking systems have been updated to allow friends and family to sit together while ensuring a safe distance between customers from different households.

Cinemas are reopening today. (Getty Images)
Cinemas are reopening today. (Getty Images)

Theatres

Theatres are open with indoor performances able to resume from May 17, with capacity limited to 1,000 people. 

The same is true of outdoor performances of up to 4,000 attendees where some stand, or up to 10,000 attendees where all are seated.

Returning theatre-goers can expect many COVID-safe precautions to remain in place which means there will likely still be compulsory mask-wearing during performances, the use of e-tickets and card payments rather than cash, one-way systems, and frequent use of hand sanitiser.

Can I hug my friends and family?

You sure can, if hugging is your thing, but the government is reminding us to be cautious, especially if the person you want to squeeze hasn't been vaccinated yet.

The prime minister has said people should make their own choices when it comes to having close contact with friends and family, and has urged people to consider how vulnerable someone is when deciding whether or not to hug them.

Mr Johnson warned the change in rules "does not mean we should throw caution to the wind" and says hugging is still a main way the virus can spread.

Read more: These are the top 10 staycation spots for summer 2021

Can my child have a birthday party indoors?

They can, as indoor entertainment in England, Wales and some parts of Scotland is now open, but the party size may have to be small as the limits on meeting indoors is still six people (or two households in England and three in Scotland) and venues may limit the total amount of people allowed inside.

If your little one wants a bigger party it might be worth looking for an outdoor venue as groups of up to 30 people are allowed to meet up outside in England.

In Scotland up to 100 people are allowed at an indoor event.

Indoor dining is back on the table. (Getty Images)
Indoor dining is back on the table. (Getty Images)

Can I order at the bar?

Not yet. Though pubs and restaurants open for indoor drinking and dining, if alcohol is served in the venue it will be with table service only, meaning customers will not be able to order from the bar.

Commenting on the new rule relaxation, Conor McCarthy, CEO of Flipdish, said: “If the establishment services alcohol, customers must remain seated and use table service or digital table ordering technology."

But it seems most customers are happy about the table service rule.  

"Research shows many customers are actually calling time on queuing at the bar as they want to spend less time jostling for space and frantically trying to make eye contact with staff. 

"We expect many hospitality managers owners to stick with table ordering as it helps them manage the venue and orders.”

Customers will also have to comply with a toughening of the test and trace rules, which previously only required one person from each group to register their attendance on the NHS Covid app.

All customers must now check-in under the new regulations, allowing the NHS to more easily contact anyone who may have been in contact with someone infected with the virus.

Is there still a curfew and do you have to eat to drink inside?

Nope. The 10pm curfew which was enforced following the second national lockdown has been changed and there is now no time constraints placed on venues.

The 'substantial meal' rule from last year has also been ditched, so you don't need to order a meal if you want to drink alcohol. 

The rule of six is moving inside from today. (Getty Images)
The rule of six is moving inside from today. (Getty Images)

What other rules will be in place in pubs and restaurants?

Most venues will be operating a one-way system, as well as other social distancing measures including larger spacing between tables or mitigating measures such as screens in place.

Face mask rules remain in place, with customers expected to wear face coverings when moving around a pub or restaurant.

Can we now give lifts in the car?

You can, but you can only travel in the car in a group of no more than 6 people, or 2 households, unless you are travelling for a reason that is exempt.

The government has provided some tips and advice for protecting yourself and others when you are sharing a car:

  • sharing the car with the same people each time and, where possible, only with members of your household or support bubble

  • minimising the group size at any one time

  • opening windows for ventilation

  • travelling side by side or behind other people, rather than facing them, where seating arrangements allow

  • facing away from each other

  • considering seating arrangements to maximise distance between people in the vehicle

  • cleaning your car between journeys using standard cleaning products – make sure you clean door handles and other areas that people may touch

  • asking the driver and passengers to wear a face covering

Read more: 7 cosy cottages to book now

Should we be cautious about the changes?

Many experts have advised to embrace the new relaxations with caution, mainly because of concerns surrounding the spread of the Indian variant. 

"The vast majority of COVID infections happen because of people mixing indoors, with the new reopening phase introduced by the government, this allows people to mix indoors as of Monday," explains Hussain Abdeh, clinical director and superintendent pharmacist at Medicine Direct.

"People still need to act with caution, the UK Vaccination program is still a long way off reaching all UK adults with 2 doses. With that said, even with 2 doses of the vaccine, this does not offer a guarantee of 100% protection to anyone."

Abdeh says the Indian variant is by far the most contagious variant of COVID that the UK has faced yet. 

"As it is still very early days since the Indian variant arrived on UK shores, it is still not entirely known how effective our vaccines will be against it," he adds. 

"What we do know so far, is that the majority of people who have caught and been hospitalised with the Indian variant, had not yet received their COVID jab. 

"This tells us that the UK vaccines do offer some form of resistance against the rapidly spreading variant."

That said, Abdeh says it is essential that with many indoor businesses opening their doors again, we continue to socialise with caution.

"Many UK experts state that we are in the home strait of defeating the virus, however it is important that people do not become blindsided by this and allow their standards (of caution) to drop," he says. 

"Continue to act with caution, continue to sanitise, continue to wear a mask and social distance as much as possible. Many indoor businesses have opened their doors, they can quite easily be shut again if we lose sight of the bigger picture and act like everything is back to normal.”

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