Boris Johnson has confirmed a major easing of COVID-19 restrictions in England will go ahead from next week.
At a news conference later today the prime minister will say that from 17 May, meetings of six people, or two households, will be allowed to take place indoors for the first time since January.
With infection rates currently at the lowest level since September, and hospital admissions now similar to last July, the prime minister is expected to say the government’s tests have been met to allow for stage three of his roadmap to proceed as planned.
In a statement Mr Johnson praised the public’s “unwavering commitment” and said loosening the rules would be unlikely to see a resurgence of the virus that would put pressure on the NHS.
“The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us,” he said.
“The roadmap remains on track, our successful vaccination programme continues – more than two-thirds of adults in the UK have now had the first vaccine – and we can now look forward to unlocking cautiously but irreversibly.
“It’s because of the British public’s unwavering commitment that we are saving lives, protecting the NHS and controlling the virus.”
Health minister Nadine Dorries told Sky News that hugs and physical contact are “massively important” for people, adding: “I think it’s what most people have missed, that intimate contact with family and friends, and entertaining, having people in your own house, meeting outdoors.”
Ms Dorries added: “It does look as though the road map is on course, but we do so with caution, ensuring that the data is in place and looking forward to – and with excitement to – the fact that we will able to hug our family and friends soon.
“So, caution balanced with optimism, I think, is the way forward.”
The Cabinet will meet this morning to sign off on the plans.
More than 50 million vaccine doses have been administered in the UK – with 35.2 million people having received a first dose, and 17.2 million people having had both doses.
Ministers say the goal of offering all adults a first dose by the end of July remains on track.
The news conference will mark the start of a busy week for the prime minister, with the government’s new legislative agenda being set out in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.
There is expected to be a focus on policies connected to the prime minister’s “levelling up” goals, as well as recovery from the pandemic.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Mr Gove said the Queen’s speech would also contain a “series of bills and measures that will strengthen our NHS”, although ministers are facing questions about whether a plan of the reform of social care will be included.