In a major Commons announcement, the Prime Minister will tell MPs that thousands of cultural venues can join pubs, cafes and restaurants in welcoming back customers from July 4. He will also confirm that the Government’s two-metre social distancing guideline is to be cut in half to ensure reopening is a viable option for businesses in the hospitality sector. A Downing Street source said: “We are only able to move forward this week because the vast majority of people have taken steps to control the virus.
“But the more we open up, the more important it is that everyone follows the social distancing guidelines.
“We will not hesitate to reverse these steps if it is necessary to stop the virus running out of control.”
Mr Johnson’s move to restore a swathe of freedoms suspended under lockdown follows the latest scientific evidence that the epidemic is in retreat.
With the daily death toll down to 15 yesterday, the Government signalled that the shielding restrictions that have kept 2.2million clinically vulnerable people trapped at home will also be suspended from July 4.
To pave the way for the changes, Health Secretary Matt Hancock gave them the go-ahead to join gatherings of up to six and link up with another household in a “support bubble” from Monday.
He said: “Whilst there is still much to do, we are clearly making progress.
Cinemas will be reopening on July 4
“We are working through our plan and the data shows our plan is working.
“We’ve protected the NHS and, thanks to the patience and sacrifice of everyone, infections are falling, the NHS is restoring and the virus is in retreat.”
Mr Johnson will announce the biggest easing yet in lockdown restrictions in England in a statement to MPs today.
A meeting of the Prime Minister’s coronavirus strategy committee last night considered the findings of a Cabinet Office review into the two-metre guideline.
New advice reducing the limit to one-metre is expected to be approved by a full Cabinet meeting this morning, along with extra safety measures to reduce the possible risk.
The Government will also publish additional guidance shortly on how cinemas, museums and galleries can introduce measures to make their premises Covid-secure including one-way routes, spaced queuing, increased ventilation and only accepting pre-booked tickets.
Mr Hancock’s announcement yesterday of a “pause” in shielding guidance from next month will reunite relatives including many grandparents and grandchildren torn apart from months by the pandemic, ending the misery of loneliness and isolation.
He said: “I want to thank all those who have been shielding for so many weeks for their commitment to the shielding programme. I know this has been incredibly tough.
“Shielding has involved not leaving your house for months, not seeing people you care about, not being able to wander to the park for some fresh air, or even pop to the shops for something you need.
We will not hesitate to reverse these steps if it is necessary to stop the virus running out of control
“This sacrifice has been for a purpose, and I want to thank every single one of you.”
He added: “We knew it was a difficult ask, but these measures have been vital in saving lives.
“Now, with infection rates continuing to fall in our communities, our medical experts have advised that we can now ease some of these measures, while keeping people safe.”
Government measures to support those shielding including sick pay and food parcel deliveries will continue until the end of July to give households time to adjust, the Heath Secretary said at last night’s Downing Street coronavirus news conference.
After that, local support from NHS volunteers and councils will continue through August and beyond.
Vulnerable people will retain their priority for supermarket delivery slots, and get access to help with shopping, medication, phone calls and travel to medical appointments.
Cinemas reopening: Boris Johnson will say the move could quickly be reversed
Setting out details of the new guidance, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries said: “Shielding was introduced to safeguard those who, at the start of the epidemic in the UK, were thought to be most clinically vulnerable in our communities. We know how difficult this period has been and the impact shielding has had on many people’s mental health.
“The prevalence of the virus in the community is now lower and chances of getting infected are reduced, so we believe it is the right time to relax some of the advice so people can start to regain a degree of normality once more in their daily lives.
“People should continue to follow social distancing guidance when outside their homes, as well as frequently washing their hands, to minimise the risk of becoming infected.
“We will continue to monitor the evidence closely and adjust the advice accordingly if there are any changes in the rates of infection that could impact on this group.”
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Mr Hancock will write to everyone on the official Shielded Patient List to provide updated information on the shielding advice and the ongoing support that will be available.
He also appealed to employers to be aware that staff who are clinically vulnerable may feel uncomfortable about returning to workplaces.
Firms will be asked to ensure strong safeguards are in place in offices and other workplaces to protect vulnerable staff.
Charities welcomed the relaxing of restrictions yesterday but raised concerns about support measures such as sick pay being taken away.
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Galleries will also open doors on July 4
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, said: “Many will still face really difficult personal decisions about what it’s safe for them to do.
“In particular, employers and older workers both need much more detailed guidance about managing a return to work after shielding.”Nick Moberly, chief executive of the MS Society, said: “After three months of shielding, people considered vulnerable to Covid-19 in England are desperate to get back to normal life.
“But we are gravely concerned that certain key support measures – such as food packages and Statutory Sick Pay – will be taken away prematurely.
“Without this help, and with many people still terrified of infection, for some the idea of normal life returning will feel more like a threat than an opportunity.”