COVID-19: Hugs set to return from 17 May as PM expected to outline next stage of lockdown easing

Boris Johnson is poised to announce that the next stage of lifting lockdown will go ahead as planned on 17 May, a cabinet minister has said.

Michael Gove told Sky News the prime minister will give the green light tomorrow, clearing the way for people to meet inside and for indoor hospitality to resume in just over a week’s time.

Mr Gove told Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "Thanks to the success of the UK vaccination programme and also the good sense of people across the UK we can progressively relax measures.

"I anticipate that the prime minister tomorrow will signal that we can enter the next stage of relaxation in England on 17 May and as the transport secretary indicated yesterday that means also that some of the rules on international travel are changing as well."

He later told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the next stage of lockdown easing would mean people can hug again.

He said: "Friendly contact, intimate contact, between friends and family is something we want to see restored."

Asked if that meant hugs will be allowed again from around 17 May, he said: "Yes."

According to the prime minister’s roadmap for easing lockdown, 17 May could also see the end of the ban on international travel.

A traffic light system which grades countries based on numbers of coronavirus cases and the progress of their vaccination campaigns will come into force instead.

Under the rules, green countries are cleared for quarantine-free travel as long as a COVID tests are taken before and after travel.

Turkey, which is due to hold the Champions League final in Istanbul on 29 May, is on the red list – making it virtually impossible for British football fans who wanted to see the clash between Manchester City and Chelsea to go.

Mr Gove said there are "delicate negotiations" ongoing regarding the Champions League final.

When asked whether the game should be held in the UK, rather than Turkey Mr Gove said: "My son is a Chelsea fan and he would dearly love to see the game played in the UK.

"But there are delicate negotiations that are going on at the moment.

"My friend, my colleague the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, is talking to people about this at the moment and so I don’t want to cut across that, but I’m sure that fans in the UK would dearly love to see the final played here in the UK."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps previously said the UK is open to hosting the game, but stressed it is a decision for European football’s governing body.

Separately, Nadhim Zahawi has said the government is considering whether large events in the UK would require the use of so-called vaccine passports.

From 17 May large events and sporting fixtures will be allowed to resume with a reduced capacity for spectators.

The vaccines minister, who previously labelled the concept "discriminatory", told BBC Breakfast: "We are exploring through the different pilots that we are running, certainly for mass events which could prove more challenging for us to open up, say, Wembley Stadium for the semi-final of the FA Cup or the final.

"If you want to go to 100% seat capacity at Wembley, you have to look at all these technologies which are available to you and I think it is only right and responsible for any government to explore that.

"Michael Gove is reviewing how we would do that – there are some very important questions that people will be clearly worried about, including issues around discrimination and we can’t be discriminatory in any way on this."

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