The elderly and most vulnerable who have been “shielding” from coronavirus will be able to see loved ones such as children and grandchildren from Monday.
The government is easing lockdown measures to allow more than two million people at the most risk from the virus to leave their home for the first time in 10 weeks.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has said the government is “reasonably confident” the easing of the measures will keep the rate of infection in the country at manageable levels.
Mr Jenrick added at the Downing Street daily briefing on Sunday that “shielders” can now do “quite modest things” like going for a walk with members with of their household.
Those who live alone can meet with someone from another household.
Mr Jenrick told the daily press briefing: “We’re not today asking people, or advising people, to stop shielding.
“Far from it. What we’re saying to the people who have been shielding for the last 10 weeks is that we think that the rate of infection is sufficiently low now to enable you to do some quite modest things like going outside for a walk with members of your household, or like if you’ve been living alone, meeting somebody from another household.”
He added: “This will enable those shielding to see loved ones like children and grandchildren, something many I know are aching to do.
“Having spent many weeks indoors some will understandably be very cautious and concerned about going outdoors.
“You should only do what you are comfortable with.”
Mr Jenrick said these “small changes” will have a “huge impact” on people’s mental health and wellbeing “while still continuing to ensure they’re protected by being at home and reducing the amount of face-to-face contact that they have with people outside their household to the absolute minimum”.
Deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries said that at the start of the outbreak the chance of meeting someone with the disease would have been about one in 40, and it is now about one in 400 to 500.
She added the incidence of new cases is about one in 1,000.
Dr Harries said: “This is a really, really critical time, so where we are seeing government is easing measures, the public really, really need to stick to those measures.”
She added: “Nothing will ever be 100% safe.”
Mr Jenrick said the next review of shielding measures will take place in the week starting 15 June and officials will consider the next steps of the programme “more generally” beyond the end of the month.
He continued: “Following that review, the NHS will also write to all individuals on the shielding patient list with information about next steps on shielding advice and the support that will be available to them.
“If the conditions become less favourable, our advice to those being asked to shield will, unfortunately, need to be tightened.”
Mr Jenrick said the government hopes those shielding can be given more tailored advice in the future.
He said: “We do want to move to a more specific approach in time and our medical advisers are producing advice as to how we can give people more specific, tailored advice to their own condition rather than the blanket approach that we’ve done so far.”
Mr Jenrick added that while the updated guidance from Monday for the shielded is for England only, the government is working closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland “who will issue their own guidance in due course”.