Scientific advisors have given an estimated time frame of when people may be able to hug their loved ones- and it might be as early as June.
This is thanks to a new study which suggests a single jab can cut virus transmission by up to half.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick and a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group, suggested the decision on whether social distancing would be needed going into the summer months could be a political one.
However, he said vaccines were doing the job of preventing most people falling seriously ill, and he was hopeful hugs would be back on the agenda by the date the Government has set for lifting legal limits on social contact.
It comes as a new study from Public Health England (PHE) shows that a single dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines can slash virus transmission by up to half.
The breakthrough findings offer further hope that the pandemic can be brought under control as vaccinated people are far less likely to pass the virus onto others.
The study found that those given a single dose of a jab, and who became infected at least three weeks later, were between 38% and 49% less likely to pass the virus on to people living in their homes, compared to those who were unvaccinated.
Speaking on Times Radio, Dr Tildesley was asked at what stage people will be able to be close to another person, such as a family member, if both have been vaccinated.
He said: “I think this is really difficult because of course, in a sense, this becomes more of a sort of a political decision rather than an epidemiological decision because we have been told that on June 21 all of these legal limits on contact will be removed, but it’s still unclear exactly what that means.
“Whether that means that on that date some social distancing will be in place or whether all of those will be removed and you’ll be able to go and hug your loved ones…
“I think the key thing is that if you’re both vaccinated, of course, it does reduce the risk of anyone becoming severely ill and my hope is that as we move towards that June date, we will be in a position that we cannot just see our loved ones, but also we can hug our loved ones because it’s been a very long time since we’ve been able to do that.”
He said there was a need for ongoing monitoring of the situation, including of what happens when people are allowed to mix indoors again.
From May 17, up to two households, or six individuals from other households (the rule of six), should be able to meet inside.
The Government has also committed to update the advice on social distancing and hugging by step three of the roadmap, scheduled for May 17.
Dr Tildesley said: “We obviously do need to monitor the data as we get to the main relaxation, when you are allowed to go inside people’s households, it’s really important that we monitor that data and ensure that we don’t get a resurgence at that point.”
The PHE study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, included over 57,000 people living in 24,000 households who were the contacts of a vaccinated person.
They were compared with nearly one million contacts of people who had not had a vaccine.
Contacts were defined as secondary cases of coronavirus if they tested positive two to 14 days after the initial household case.
Other studies have already shown that both vaccines are highly effective at stopping people getting sick and ending up in hospital.
Experts will now assess whether two doses of vaccine can cut transmission of the virus even further, and more work is being carried out on transmission in the general population.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock welcomed the study, saying: “This is terrific news, we already know vaccines save lives and this study is the most comprehensive real-world data showing they also cut transmission of this deadly virus.
“It further reinforces that vaccines are the best way out of this pandemic as they protect you and they may prevent you from unknowingly infecting someone in your household.
“I urge everybody to get their vaccines as soon as they are eligible and make sure you get your second dose for the strongest possible protection.”
Dr Tildesley told BBC Breakfast he thought the PHE findings on transmission were “significant”.
He said the study offered “extra evidence to suggest we do need as many people to be vaccinated as possible, even if you are not at severe risk of developing severe symptoms, because that way we’re getting much higher levels of protection across the population, protecting the vulnerable and, hopefully, further reducing the number of people who will get severely ill and sadly die from the disease”.
The vaccines’ effects on cutting transmission are likely to be even higher after two doses, though further evidence was needed, he added.
He said the UK was in a good position and the fact the “vaccines seem to be effective hopefully puts us in a good position to continue with the road map and the full relaxation by June 21”.
Professor Peter Openshaw, a member of the Covid-19 clinical information network, described the PHE results as “very, very reassuring and “certainly better than many of us expected just a few months ago”.
He told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It shows that the immune system is doing something a lot more than we were expecting of it really.”
He added that, with two doses, the outcome is “almost certainly going to be even better”.
Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at PHE, said vaccines were “vital in helping us return to a normal way of life”.
She added: “Not only do vaccines reduce the severity of illness and prevent hundreds of deaths every day, we now see they also have an additional impact on reducing the chance of passing Covid-19 on to others.”
The Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are credited with having saved 10,400 lives among the over-60s as of the end of March.
Data out last week from the national Covid-19 Infection Survey run by the University of Oxford and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) also found that vaccines are likely to cut transmission.
Just one dose of either the Pfizer BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccines cut coronavirus cases by two-thirds and were 74% effective against symptomatic infection, according to the real-world UK data.
After two doses of Pfizer, there was a 70% reduction in all cases and a 90% drop in symptomatic cases, these are the people who are most likely to transmit coronavirus to others.