Brits Could Soon Hug Again With Boris Johnson Set to Ease Lockdown

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  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce that the government will push ahead with the next stage of lifting lockdown in England.
  • A renewed bid for an independence vote in Scotland threatens to overshadow Westminster in the weeks and months ahead, however.

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce on Monday that the government will push ahead with the next stage of lifting lockdown in England.

Johnson's Cabinet is expected to sign off on Monday the further relaxing of lockdown measures to begin May 17. International travel would be able to resume next Monday in most circumstances, although quarantines and testing would be required on return to the U.K., for the most part.

Pubs and restaurants are also due to welcome customers indoors again, and indoor household mixing will be allowed to resume for groups up to six people. The government has said it hopes to lift all restrictions on social contact by June 21.

Johnson is expected to say later Monday that the data supports a further relaxation of measures and that the public could be advised on whether more close personal contact with friends and family, such as hugging, is allowed, the BBC reported.

Around midday Monday, the U.K.'s chief medical officers agreed to lower the country's Covid-19 alert level from 4 — which means Covid transmission is high or rising exponentially — to level 3, which means the epidemic is in general circulation.

"Thanks to the efforts of the UK public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination programme, case numbers, deaths and Covid hospital pressures have fallen consistently," the U.K.'s four chief medical officers said in a joint statement, although they called on the public to remain vigilant.

The expected announcement on a further lifting of lockdown comes at a time when a political storm is brewing in the north after Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed on Saturday to press ahead with plans for a new referendum on independence from the U.K.

The comments by the leader of the Scottish National Party came after her party finished just one seat short of winning an overall majority in Scottish parliamentary elections last Thursday. The party is expected to call on the Scottish Green Party, another pro-independence party, for support when it comes to calling for another referendum.

Johnson has said he would try to block a second referendum on independence, but Sturgeon has insisted the election result showed there was a mandate for a second vote.

"The only people who can decide the future of Scotland are the Scottish people, and no Westminster politician can or should stand in the way of that," Sturgeon told the BBC on Sunday.

A vote in favor of independence is not a foregone conclusion. In the last vote in 2014, 44.7% of voters opted for independence and 55.3% voted against the split, and question marks over Scotland's economic viability as an independent nation remain unanswered.

The Brexit vote in 2016 was a catalyst for divides in Britain. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, while a majority in Wales and England voted to leave. Complexities over Northern Ireland's role in the post-Brexit trade deal and a perception that it was sacrificed during the negotiating process with the EU have left some experts questioning whether a push toward reunification with the rest of Ireland could get stronger.

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