Hugging loved ones from different households is to be allowed again from next week in England, when people will be given the choice on whether to socially distance from close friends and family.
But people are being urged to remain cautious about the risks of coronavirus transmission and close personal contact, with guidance set to suggest ways of reducing the risk, such as taking a lateral flow test beforehand.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday he has given the go-ahead to further relaxations of the lockdown rules, with household mixing permitted indoors once more from May 17.
The Government will allow people in England to use their “personal judgment” on close contact between friends and family from this date, when groups of up to six or two households can be reunited indoors.
However, people are being told to remember that some are more vulnerable to serious illness from Covid-19 than others, and that although the vaccines do reduce the risk, they do not eliminate it entirely.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “This is a matter for personal judgment.
“What the public need to understand is that we are moving away from delivering a specific instruction on this point to advising the public that, because of the success of the vaccine rollout and the public abiding by the rules, we are at the point where everyone can use their own personal judgment.
“So there is no set rule on that, it is down to personal judgment.”
Other ways of minimising the risk include meeting outside, keeping indoor spaces well ventilated, wearing face coverings, regular hand washing and keeping surfaces clean.
Although rules are set to change for close friends and family, wider social distancing rules will remain in place for settings such as adult social care, medical, retail and hospitality.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), urged people to “act responsibly” ahead of restrictions being lifted.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I think it’s actually very important for our mental health and wellbeing that we can hug our loved ones, but to me the key message is, if and when this comes in, we need to remember that the pandemic hasn’t gone away.
“We are still a few steps away from normality, so it’s really great that we can hug our loved ones, but what we need to remember is we need to be a little bit careful.”
Meanwhile, professor in medical microbiology Sally Jane Cutler told Times Radio: “I think we have to be very conserved about who we choose to hug.
“Personally I’m going to restrict my hugging to family members and not beyond.”