In lockdown easing, UK's Johnson says groups of 6 can meet

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Dominic Cummings, top aide to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leaves his north London home as the row over his trip to Durham during lockdown continues Thursday May 28, 2020. The British government faced accusations of hypocrisy after the revelation that Cummings traveled more than 250 miles (400 kms) to his parents' house during a nationwide lockdown while he was showing coronavirus symptoms. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

LONDON – Up to six people from different households will be allowed to meet outdoors next week as part of another modest easing of the coronavirus lockdown in England, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday.

Johnson, who has faced days of scorn for keeping his top aide Dominic Cummings in post following his controversial travels during the lockdown, said families and friends in groups of up to six can meet from Monday in outdoor spaces, including private gardens.

Johnson said at a news conference that this was potentially a “long-awaited and joyful moment” for parents and grandparents but stressed that people from different households must remain 2 meters (6.5 feet) apart and should only access homes to get to the garden. Barbecues are allowed as part of the easing but camping in gardens is not. The use of toilets is permitted as long as hands are washed thoroughly and surfaces are wiped down.

The prime minister also confirmed that schools will start reopening from Monday, initially for some younger students. Outdoor-based shops, such as car showrooms, can also reopen. Earlier, England's Premier League also said the soccer season is to recommence on June 17.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also easing lockdowns, in slightly different ways.

Johnson said the “limited and cautious” changes to the lockdown, in place since March 23, were possible because five government-imposed tests have been met. These include sustained falls in virus infections and daily deaths.

Though the number of coronavirus-related deaths has fallen since the peak in early April, the U.K. still recorded another 377 in all settings including hospitals and care homes, taking the total to 37,837 — the second-highest in the world behind the United States.

“This is not a time to say ‘Everything’s OK, we’re relaxing measures, everything’s going to be rosy'," said the government's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance. "We are at a fragile state.”