Hugging friends and family could return as soon as May 17 in Boris Johnson’s lockdown roadmap.
The small print of the 68-page plan for England shows people will finally be given advice on close contact for ‘Step 3’.
Matt Hancock said he hoped hugging will be possible from then because all over-50s and vulnerable groups will have had two doses of the vaccine.
But there is no guarantee hugging will definitely be allowed – and some legal social distancing rules may remain until June 21.
It comes after Boris Johnson unveiled a four-step, “one-way” plan out of the “wretched year” of restrictions since last March.
The roadmap will ease legal barriers at four steps no earlier than March 8, April 12, May 17 and June 21.
Yet it leaves unanswered questions over the “two-metre” and “one-metre-plus” rules on keeping your distance from others.
Even though legal restrictions on social contact will be axed, it is possible voluntary guidance not to touch each other may remain.
Those voluntary rules mean some people have not hugged friends or parents for almost a year, where they do not share the same household or bubble.
Instead of a commitment to definitely axe social distancing rules at Step 3 or Step 4, there are commitments to review them.
Ahead of Step 3 (May 17 at the earliest), “the Government will update its advice on social distancing between friends and family, including hugging,” the road map says.
Then, ahead of Step 4 (June 21 at the earliest), there will be a more wide-ranging review on social distancing rules as a whole.
The roadmap document reads: “Ahead of Step 4, as more is understood about the impact of vaccines on transmission and a far greater proportion of the population has been vaccinated, the Government will complete a review of social distancing measures and other long-term measures that have been put in place to limit transmission.
“The results of the review will help inform decisions on the timing and circumstances under which rules on 1m+ [social distancing], face masks and other measures may be lifted.”
The review of hugging is being carried out before May 17 because that is when some indoor social mixing could resume.
At Step 3, people will be able to gather indoors in groups of up to six people – or two households, whichever is greater – and stay overnight for the first time since at least Christmas.
Asked when hugging could begin, Matt Hancock today wrongly suggested it could happen “no later than May 17”. In fact his roadmap says there will be a review into whether it can happen, no earlier than May 17.
He later corrected himself, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I hope that will happen from May 17, that you’ll be able to go and stay away.
“I appreciate that is some time but that is the earliest we thought it would be safe to take that step.”