By Pierre Briançon
Concerned about the spread of an Indian variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on the population to exercise “a heavy dose of caution” as restrictions ease further on Monday, with people allowed to be served indoors in bars and restaurants, attend movie theaters and hug family and friends.
The new step in the government’s “road map” to ease the economy out of lockdown also allows mixing indoors, lifts restrictions on outdoor meetings for groups of fewer than 30 people, and removes mandatory mask-wearing in schools.
A top scientific adviser to the government, however, cautioned on Monday that the restrictions could return if the spread of a highly transmissible variant detected in India leads to another wave of the pandemic.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said there was “increased confidence” that vaccines worked against the variant. According to official numbers , 69% of the U.K. adult population has received at least one dose of the available shots, with 38% now fully vaccinated.
A legal ban on travel abroad has also been lifted on Monday, but the government has cautioned against holidays outside its limited “ green list ” of 12 countries, mostly small islands, deemed safe for travel — with Portugal the only European Union member on the list.
The outlook. Johnson has been criticized for delaying by two weeks a ban on travelers from India, out of a desire not to irk Prime Minister Narendra Modi just as Johnson was due to make a high-profile trip to New Delhi. The trip was later canceled.