COVID-19: Outdoor get-togethers and sport resume in England – but PM warns ‘we must be cautious’

People are now allowed to meet in groups of up to six or as two households and outdoor team sports are reopening in a major easing of England’s lockdown restrictions.

As the "stay at home" order ended at midnight, Boris Johnson stressed that "we must remain cautious", saying cases were rising across Europe and new variants were threatening the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

Live COVID updates from across the UK and around the world

From today in England:

• Groups of up to six people – or two households – can socialise in parks and gardens

• Football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools can reopen

• Golf courses and sailing clubs can reopen

• Organised team sports can resume outdoors

• People should still work from home if possible and minimise their journeys

• The ‘stay at home’ order is being replace with a ‘stay local’ instruction

The prime minister said he hopes the return of outdoor activities will "kickstart a Great British summer of sport" and that "many will welcome the increased social contact".

Mr Johnson called for the public to participate in a fitness drive, with children recommended to aim for an hour of physical activity a day, and adults for at least 150 minutes.

He also announced a new Office for Health Promotion to tackle obesity and poor mental health, as the nation recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Johnson said: "I know how much people have missed the camaraderie and competition of organised sport, and how difficult it has been to restrict physical activities – especially for children.

"So as teams return to outdoor pitches, courts, parks and fields, I hope today will kickstart a Great British summer of sport – with people of all ages reunited with teammates, and able to resume the activities they love.

"I know many will welcome the increased social contact, with groups of six or two households now also able to meet outdoors."

Tourism and sport minister Nigel Huddleston told Sky News that the next step in easing lockdown is "a really big day for millions of people across the UK just dying to get back to the things that they love".

He expressed confidence that outdoor sports would be able to operate safely, adding: "I think we can trust in the common sense of the British public to a very great degree. The vast majority of people absolutely stick to the rules."

At Morley Hayes Golf Club, near Derby, a group of golfers greeted the easing of restrictions by hitting the fairways at just after midnight.

Seven teams used glow-in-the-dark balls and floodlit greens, with their opening drives coming at 12.01am.

Meanwhile at the North Dulwich Lawn Tennis Club in south London, head coach Peter Wright said members were eager to get back on court without delay.

"Oh there’s absolutely huge excitement. The courts open at seven o’clock in the morning, and every court is booked from seven o’clock until half past eight in the evening," he told Sky News.

"It’s still social distancing of course, which is interesting playing tennis."

Mr Johnson reminded people to exercise caution, and stick to existing rules on meeting up indoors and travelling, particularly amid a third wave of COVID-19 in Europe.

"We must remain cautious with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout," he said.

"Despite today’s easements, everyone must continue to stick to the rules, remember hands, face, space, and come forward for a vaccine when called."

Mr Johnson previously said Britons should be "under no illusions" that Europe’s third wave would hit the UK too.

"Previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, I’m afraid it washes up on our shores as well," he said.

Although, he said there was "nothing in the data to dissuade [him] from continuing on the roadmap to freedom".

While greater outdoor freedoms are now permitted, the government is still advising people to work from home where possible and minimise the number of journeys they take.

A new slogan was also unveiled to stress the importance of ventilation in reducing the spread of the virus: "Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air."

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the progress of the vaccine rollout "must be protected", adding "when you meet others do so outdoors and keep a safe distance".

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty added: "The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors. It is important to remember this as we move into the next phase."

And the Metropolitan Police reminded people that large gatherings remain unlawful, saying officers would "continue to respond quickly to house parties or dangerous raves, taking enforcement action by handing out fines".

Mr Johnson is counting on falling cases and deaths, and a rapid vaccination rollout, to help the UK end the lockdown for good in June.

More than 30 million people – 57% of all UK adults – have received a first vaccine dose so far. Almost 7% of adults have had both doses.

The threshold was passed as 3,862 new coronavirus cases and 19 deaths were reported on Sunday – down from 5,312 and 33 a week ago.

Ministers remain confident that all over-50s will have been offered a first dose by 15 April. The government aims to offer all adults a jab by the end of July.

Today marks the second major easing of England’s lockdown imposed in early January, with schools having been reopened to all pupils on 8 March.

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The next step in the lockdown-easing roadmap is 12 April, which is earmarked for non-essential shops to reopen and for outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants.

In Wales, the "stay local" order ended on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation.

The "stay home" order in Scotland is to end on Friday, while in Northern Ireland up to six people, or two households, will be able to meet outdoors from Thursday.

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