Boris Johnson says he hopes Monday’s relaxation of COVID rules in England kickstarts a “Great British summer of sport” – but has urged people to remain cautious and to stick to the rules.
From Monday, groups of up to six, or two households, are able to reunite outdoors, and outdoor sport can resume.
The stay at home order is also being replaced with a message to stay local, as part of Mr Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.
The prime minister said he hopes the return of outdoor activities will “kickstart a Great British summer of sport” and that “many will welcome the increased social contact”.
He said: “I know how much people have missed the camaraderie and competition of organised sport, and how difficult it has been to restrict physical activities – especially for children.
“So as teams return to outdoor pitches, courts, parks and fields, I hope today will kickstart a Great British summer of sport – with people of all ages reunited with teammates, and able to resume the activities they love.
“I know many will welcome the increased social contact, with groups of six or two households now also able to meet outdoors.”
However, Mr Johnson reminded people to exercise caution, and stick to existing rules on meeting up indoors and travelling, particularly amid a third wave of COVID-19 in Europe and the threat of virus variants.
“We must remain cautious with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout,” he said.
“Despite today’s easements, everyone must continue to stick to the rules, remember hands, face, space, and come forward for a vaccine when called.”
Mr Johnson previously said Britons should be “under no illusions” that Europe’s third wave would hit the UK too.
“Previous experience has taught us that when a wave hits our friends, I’m afraid it washes up on our shores as well,” he said.
Although, he said there was “nothing in the data to dissuade [him] from continuing on the roadmap to freedom”.
On Sunday, Stephen Powis, medical director of NHS England, urged people to continue to follow the rules and limit contact with others, saying the easing “does not mean job done.”
“We’ve made enormous progress that we need to build on and not squander the gains we’ve made,” he wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
Under the government’s roadmap to lifting lockdown, shops, hairdressers and outdoor dining in England are to reopen on 12 April, followed by indoor venues on 17 May.
Mr Johnson is counting on falling cases and deaths, and a rapid vaccination rollout, to help the UK end the coronavirus lockdown for good in June.
More than 30 million people – 57% of all UK adults – have received a first vaccine dose so far. Almost 7% of adults have had both doses.
Ministers remain confident that all over-50s will have been offered a first dose by 15 April. The government aims to offer all adults a jab by the end of July.
Meanwhile, Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said it was vital that people who had received a vaccine remain cautious.
“It’s really important that people who are vaccinated remember that they aren’t completely protected,” he told the BBC.
“They’re protected against severe disease, hospitalisation and death, but they might not be protected against infection after one dose, it takes three or four weeks for the vaccine effects to kick in, and they could potentially still transmit.”