Coronavirus: Isle of Man becomes first in British Isles to live without lockdown

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Two friends hugging
Image caption,
With social distancing scrapped, friends can hug again on the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man has become the first place in the British Isles to scrap social distancing and embrace what the chief minister called the "new normal".

The island has seen no new cases of coronavirus since 20 May, leading the government to dispense with most of its lockdown restrictions.

As such, Monday has seen people enjoying pubs, restaurants, shops and gyms for the first time since March.

One shopper said it was "wonderful" to be able to see friends freely again.

Image caption,
Tim Henwood (right) said it was "wonderful" to meet friends again

At the regular coronavirus briefing, Chief Minister Howard Quayle announced that all restrictions on the number of people who could gather together had also been lifted.

The lifting of the majority of guidance means Tynwald will sit in person on Tuesday for the first time since the start of April and from 22 June, all children will return to school and the island's speed limits, which had been limited to a maximum of 40mph, will return to normal.

Outdoor sporting fixtures are also allowed to resume.

Mr Quayle also said pubs, clubs and swimming pools would be able to reopen fully from Thursday, though he expected it to be up to a further two weeks before pools were ready to take swimmers again.

However, the island's border will remain closed and social distancing will still be required at care homes and in healthcare settings.

Analysis: BBC News Online's Sadhbh O'Shea in Douglas

At times, since restrictions were implemented in March, it felt like this day may never come.

But the Isle of Man's last positive test was almost a month ago now and the lockdown restrictions are all but gone.

There is a sense of life returning to normal as people hug their friends, workers begin their commutes back to offices and cafes allow customers to enjoy a pot of tea and a cake inside for the first time in months.

New cases could still appear on the island but, with the borders closed for the foreseeable future, there's a sense of optimism as locals look forward to a summer without the spectre of Covid-19 looming over their daily lives.

Advocate Tim Henwood took advantage of the new way of life to work with a colleague at a coffee shop in Douglas.

He said he had "no problem with social distancing coming to an end", adding that it had been "wonderful" to spend time with friends who had been isolating.

Gym owner Stefan White said he had been "looking forward" to reopening after a three-month hiatus, adding that the island was in a "great position" to restart successfully.

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