Can we hug now? When hugging will be allowed under new UK lockdown rules

Older woman hugging daughter while standing at doorway with family
(Image credit: Getty Images/Maskot)

With family and friends allowed to properly reunite after months apart from May 17, the question everyone is asking is, can we hug now?

From next week, the number of people who can meet up indoors is set to change from just one household or support bubble, to six people or two households. Those gathering outside can meet in groups of up to 30 people. 

Since we first went into lockdown, experts and scientific advisors have warned against giving loved ones a hug, as social distancing has been a key Covid-safe measure. Hugging is now at the top of many people’s post-lockdown bucket lists, and new rules around lockdown announced this week is going to make hugging 'allowed' in the UK once again. 

Can we hug now? When hugging will be 'allowed' in the UK?

Hugging will be allowed again from May 17, when the UK moves into the next stage of the government's roadmap out of lockdown

As the coronavirus alert level was lowered from four to three, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged caution but did confirm that people from different households would be allowed to hug each other again. 

He said that there were still Covid risks involved in social interactions, so to 'pick and choose' who to hug. “This doesn’t mean that we can suddenly throw caution to the winds. We all know that close contacts such as hugging is a direct way of transmitting this disease," he said. 

“So I urge you to think about the vulnerability of your loved ones.” 

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Mr Johnson said that people should consider all the factors when choosing to hug someone; including whether they and those they are hugging have had the vaccine, whether both people have had their second dose, and whether there’s been appropriate time for the vaccine to take effect.

He also said, “Remember outdoors is always safe than indoors. And if you are meeting indoors, remember to open a window and let in the fresh air. 

“Keep getting tested regularly, even if you don’t have symptoms, so you don’t spread the virus without knowing it. And whatever you decide, I must ask that you continue to follow social distancing when not with friends and family including in workplaces, shops, pubs, restaurants and other settings.” 

The new rule only applies to people living in different households or support bubbles, as those in these two set-ups haven't had to socially distance from each other at all during the lockdown.

This latest change to the lockdown rules comes as groups of up to six people or two households can meet indoors, meaning hospitality venues can open their indoor spaces again. Grandparents can be reunited with their grandchildren, as overnight stays with family are also allowed again.

While further relaxation of social distancing is expected in the coming months, experts predict face coverings will still be worn into next year in many public environments.

Grandmother and granddaughter hugging as lockdown rules lift

Credit: Getty

Is it illegal to hug someone before this date?

It has never been illegal to hug someone during the coronavirus pandemic, as social distancing was never put into law. It has only ever been guidance, which is not enforceable by the police. 

This means that you shouldn’t be given a fine for breaking lockdown rules if you hug someone or are less than 2 metres apart from someone you don't live with.

Two women hugging on the street outside, as the rules on whether two people can hug now have changed

Credit: Getty

The Coronavirus Act 2020 is an Act of Parliament, so it’s the law. This Act doesn’t cover any social distancing measures, but rather gave more powers to the police to contain potentially infectious people (in hotel quarantine, for example). It also allowed them to change mental health laws, local authorities’ duties in relation to social care, and make changes to the Government’s surveillance powers (Track and Trace, for instance). 

If we take on more restrictions, such as a circuit breaker lockdown, this is likely to be one of the first restrictions re-enforced.

Is there a way to hug safely reduce risk of virus transmission?

Boris Johnson urged “caution and common sense” when announcing the change in the rules, adding, “whoever I hug, I can assure you, it will be done with caution and restraint”. 

This comment was followed up in a BBC report with Catherine Noakes, a specialist in airborne infections at the University of Leeds. She gave the following advice: 

  • Avoid hugging everybody you know: restrict hugging to small numbers of close family or friends. 
  • Don’t hug too frequently 
  • Don’t hug for too long 
  • Try to avoid being face to face
  • Wear a mask, if possible

“The reality is, when you hug somebody you are very close to them and we know the virus is in people’s breaths so you are very close to their breath at that moment," said Catherine.

But, Catherine also says, it depends on the circumstances. “A grandparent hugging a grandchild and the grandparent is fully vaccinated - that’s probably quite a low-risk activity most of the time. 

“But it would worry me if we were advocating [for hugging] all of our friends every time we meet them again because I think that’s going to perpetuate an additional lot of close contact that could still spread the virus.”

Grace Walsh
Features Writer

Grace Walsh is a health and wellbeing writer, working across the subjects of family, relationships, and LGBT topics, as well as sleep and mental health. A digital journalist with over six years  experience as a writer and editor for UK publications, Grace is currently Health Editor for and has also worked with Cosmopolitan, Red, The i Paper, GoodtoKnow, and more. After graduating from the University of Warwick, she started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness.