Column by Ben Stokes, deputy leader of South Gloucestershire Council.

I am delighted that the Government is to further ease lockdown restrictions from Monday (17 May). In just a few days’ time, we will be allowed to meet our friends and loved ones indoors again, as long as we limit gatherings to six people or two households. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 30 people.

These changes will allow our fantastic local pubs and restaurants to serve customers inside once more. It’s great to see our high streets stirring back to life again. This, and the reopening of cinemas and children’s play areas, feels like a big step towards getting back to normal. Our care home residents can have up to five named visitors and make low-risk visits too.

The changes also allow up to 30 people to attend weddings and other significant life events, such as christenings. Funeral attendance will no longer be limited to 30 people, but will be determined by how many the Covid-secure venue can safely accommodate with social distancing. They also allow our university students to return to in-person teaching.

The Prime Minister has warmly welcomed these changes as “a step towards that moment when we learn to live responsibly with Covid” and people can “cease to rely on detailed government edicts”.

However, he has rightly asked the public to think carefully before hugging, as this will always entail a risk of transmission, however small. I’d like to emphasise this point alongside the sharp rise in cases of the India variant in the UK, which Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, says could be more transmissible than the Kent variant. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) also noted that it would be more difficult to maintain control of the level of transmission of serious variants with fewer measures in place.

With all that in mind, I would like to thank everyone in the area for the hard work and sacrifices that you have made over the past year and urge you to continue to stay safe and keep up the good work.