Ministers are preparing to lift restrictions on outdoor activities such as picnics as the first stage in relaxing the lockdown rules.
The Mail on Sunday understands the plans – likely to be introduced later this month if coronavirus infection rates continue to fall – will mean people can exercise several times each day and drive to the countryside and other outdoor spaces for walks and picnics.
However, they will only be allowed to do so with members of their household and must stay at least two metres (6ft 6in) away from other groups.
The change, which will end the sight of police officers moving on solitary sunbathers in parks, follows new scientific advice to ministers that the risk of transmitting the disease outside is substantially lower than indoors.
Ministers are preparing to lift restrictions on outdoor activities such as picnics as the first stage in relaxing the lockdown rules. Pictured: people enjoying a picnic at Daisy Hill Forest park, Brisbane, Australia, on May 2
But people will still be barred from areas such as playgrounds and beaches where crowds congregate and the two-metre rule becomes harder to observe.
The softening of restrictions will be accompanied by the stricter enforcement of breaches of the remaining rules, with fines rising from the current £60 to more than £3,000 for repeat offenders.
Boris Johnson’s review of the lockdown on Thursday is not expected to lead to any more substantial changes until next month when public transport is likely to return to normal levels and non-food retailers, factories, warehouses and more construction sites will be encouraged to open.
Offices are expected to instruct most of their staff to continue working from home, while pubs and restaurants are likely to remain closed for weeks or even months longer.
In other developments:
- The UK death toll rose by 621 to 28,131, but the Government said it had again reached its target of 100,000 daily tests;
- Headteachers are being asked about how to phase in a return to school, starting with about 20 per cent of pupils attending from June;
- Donations to the Mail Force campaign to deliver safety equipment to NHS and care home staff passed £5 million;
- Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick announced a £76 million package to help charities tackle domestic abuse, help vulnerable children and fight modern slavery;
- Care homes warned of a deepening crisis and said the true death toll inside them may never be known;
- The Government accused the BBC of bias in some of its Covid-19 coverage;
- A new intelligence dossier circulated among Western governments accused Beijing of lying about the origins of the virus and persecuting whistleblowers;
- Universities have been targeted by Russian and Iranian hackers hunting secrets about coronavirus treatment research;
- A survey for this newspaper found lockdown had made couples less likely to split up;
Global deaths were approaching 250,000 – including more than 65,000 in the US – as many European countries made the first tentative steps out of lockdown.
Asked about relaxing restrictions on outdoor activities in Britain, a senior government source said: ‘Thanks to the huge efforts of the British public we are past the peak of the virus without the NHS having been overwhelmed.
‘Now we can start to look at which elements of the social distancing rules can be adjusted while keeping the rate of transmission down, so we are looking at how to lift everyone’s spirits by allowing the public to get into the great outdoors.’
While relaxing some measures, Ministers plan to ‘come down hard’ on ‘hotspots’ where infection rates rise. Fines for breaching coronavirus rules are expected to be increased to £100 and keep on double for any repeat offence up to a maximum £3,200 for serial offenders, who could also face arrest.
People will only be allowed to do exercise and go on picnics with members of their household and must stay at least two metres (6ft 6in) away from other groups
The source added: ‘The vast majority of people have followed the rules, but in the next phase of our fight it will be even more critical that a small minority of rule-breakers do not put the rest of us at risk. That is why we will give the police tougher powers.’
The Government is also expected to issue formal guidance next week advising that face masks should be worn to work.
People yesterday flocked to newly reopened DIY stores and rubbish tips – although dumps in Greater Manchester are to use number plate recognition to limit the number of visits. Orderly queues formed at branches of Homebase, which opened 164 stores, as well as B&Q and Wickes. Costa Coffee drive-throughs were also busy.