A key social distancing measure could be ditched from 21 June, the prime minister has said – while he hinted the government may not proceed with the introduction of COVID "passports" domestically.
This will see pubs and restaurants able to serve people indoors again, while people will be able to hug friends and family again – albeit the government has urged caution.
England ‘on track’ for next stage of roadmap on 21 June
Speaking at a Downing Street news conference to announce the latest unlocking, the prime minister also looked further ahead to stage four of his roadmap.
This is when, as Mr Johnson has previously said, the government hopes to be able to "remove all legal limits on social contact".
The prime minister said on Monday that England remained "on track" to move to stage four on 21 June, as he promised to unveil more details later this month to allow businesses to prepare for the final stage of the roadmap.
One-metre plus rule to be ditched?
But he suggested the "one-metre plus" rule – which means people have to wear masks, be seated directed away from each other, or use screens if less than two metres apart – could be scrapped from that date.
This could allow pubs, restaurants and other venues to operate at larger capacities and serve more customers.
"When it comes to social distancing from 21 June, I look at the data very carefully and I think at the moment it looks to me as though we may be able to dispense with the one-metre plus rule," Mr Johnson said.
"That’s not yet decided, it’s not yet clear – we’ll have to wait and see. But it’s by being prudent and being cautious that we’ve been able to make the progress that we have.
"We’ll be saying more to everybody, more to business, to give everybody as much clarity as we can about how they should prepare by the end of this month, getting ready for 21 June."
But the prime minister dismissed the chances of him bringing forward the next stage of England’s unlocking earlier than 21 June.
No more ‘papers for the pub’?
The government has in recent weeks been conducting a review into the use of COVID certification – both for international travel and for use in domestic settings.
This would allow people to demonstrate their testing or vaccination status, or whether they have antibodies from having previously recovered from the virus.
While ministers have already announced the use of an NHS app to demonstrate someone’s COVID status for foreign travel, Mr Johnson gave an indication that so-called COVID passports might not be needed within the UK.
"We’ll be saying more later this month about exactly what the world will look like and what role there could be – if any – for certification and social distancing," he said about how businesses would operate from 21 June.
The prime minister has previously floated the idea of COVID certification being used in pubs this summer, in what was dubbed as a "papers for the pub" scheme.
‘More optimistic’ modelling on impact of lockdown easing
Meanwhile, a group of government advisers have offered "more optimistic" modelling of the impact of easing lockdown restrictions than in their previous work.
Members of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling Operational sub-group (SPIM-O) suggested there was "an opportunity to keep the next resurgence very small" due to evidence that vaccines "significantly reduce onwards transmission".
However, the group also warned they hadn’t taken account of the possible impact of new COVID variants.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, said at Monday’s news conference that modellers had also made an assumption that there would continue to be some "residual reduction" in transmission as restrictions are eased.
He pointed to people employing better ventilation, some continuing to work from home, and those who are positive or symptomatic continuing to isolate.
And, asked whether England may have experienced its last lockdown, Sir Patrick said things were "really pointed in the right direction" – notwithstanding the possible impact of new variants.
"We’ll have a much clearer idea of the effects of step three in mid-June, so we’ll know what effect that’s had," he said.
"But everything is pointing in the direction that the vaccines are producing very effective reduction in hospitalisations and deaths.
"We know that they’re also reducing onward transmission. All of that points to that now being a much smoother path, it points to a lower increase than you might otherwise have expected with another wave."