London outdoor freedoms as lockdown restrictions relaxed

Friends and families are allowed to reunite and team sports will resume in a major easing of England’s coronavirus lockdown to allow far greater freedom outdoors.

Groups of up to six, or two households, can socialise in parks and gardens once more, while outdoor sports facilities can reopen after the stay-at-home order ended on Monday, March 29.

Among the first to re-open its doors was the Morley Hayes Golf Club, near Derby, with players teeing off at 12.01am on Monday for a seven-hole floodlit charity tournament.

Boris Johnson stressed that “we must remain cautious, with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout”, while warm weather was excepted to accompany the relaxation.

“Despite today’s easements, everyone must continue to stick to the rules, remember hands, face, space, and come forward for a vaccine when called,” the Prime Minister added.

He is expected to urge the public to take personal responsibility by sticking to the restrictions as he holds a Downing Street press conference.

Football and cricket pitches, tennis and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pools, golf courses and sailing clubs are now free to reopen after months of being shuttered.

Organised team sports can also resume outdoors, meaning grassroots competitions can take place ahead of the Easter break without the need for social distancing.

Met Police said they welcomed the limited relaxation, but warned that Londoners must not let this “usher in any complacency,” and stressed that officers would continue to remain highly visible in communities.

Restrictions were eased as official figures showed more than 30 million people in the UK have received a first vaccine dose, accounting for about 57% of all adults.

Mr Johnson said he hopes the easing will “kick-start a Great British summer of sport” as sports stars teamed up with the Government to encourage a return to physical activity.

A new slogan was also unveiled to stress the importance of ventilation in reducing the spread of the virus: “Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air.”

A public information campaign warns against the dangers of gathering indoors, with a psychologist giving advice on how to deal with friends and family who suggest breaking the rules, saying people may need to be “firm” and give “gentle reminders” about distancing.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the progress of the vaccine roll-out “must be protected”, adding “when you meet others do so outdoors and keep a safe distance”.

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty added: “The evidence is very clear that outdoor spaces are safer than indoors. It is important to remember this as we move into the next phase.”

Mr Johnson has warned that a spike in cases could be seen as parts of Europe are struck by a third wave of infections but hopes the vaccine roll-out will suppress hospitalisations and deaths.

The Prime Minister has sought to lose weight after his own hospitalisation with Covid-19 and the Government is now calling for the public to participate in a fitness drive, with children recommended to aim for an hour of physical activity a day, and adults for at least 150 minutes.

England World Cup-winning cricket captain Eoin Morgan said: “With summer – and the cricket season – just around the corner, there’s no better time for everyone, young and old, to get back to having fun by getting outdoors, being active and playing sport.”

British number one women’s tennis player Johanna Konta said: “I’m so happy people in England are now able to get back on court and enjoy the mental and physical health benefits of tennis.”

England Rugby Union prop Kyle Sinckler added: “I can’t wait to see you guys get out there, and all the kids getting back out there to enjoy themselves.”

The fitness drive comes after the latest figures showed more than 150,000 deaths involving coronavirus have been recorded in the UK.

In Wales, the “stay local” order ended on Saturday and people were allowed to stay in self-contained holiday accommodation.

The stay home order in Scotland is to end on Friday, while in Northern Ireland up to six people, or two households, will be able to meet outdoors from Thursday.

It is the second major easing of England’s lockdown imposed in early January, with schools having been reopened to all pupils on March 8.

While greater outdoor freedoms are now permitted, the Government is still advising people to work from home where possible and minimise the number of journeys they take.

The next step in the roadmap to easing England’s lockdown is April 12, which is earmarked for non-essential shops to reopen and for outdoor hospitality, including pubs and restaurants.

Surrey Comet | Kingston