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The government has set out plans to restart England’s housing market, which has been in deep freeze since the coronavirus lockdown.

Estate agents can now open, viewings can be carried out and removal firms and conveyancers can restart operations. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the changes must be carried out under social distancing and safety rules.

It is estimated there are 450,000 buyers and renters with plans on hold. “Our clear plan will enable people to move home safely, covering each aspect of the sales and letting process, from viewings to removals,” Mr Jenrick said.

“This critical industry can now safely move forward, and those waiting patiently to move can now do so.”

Meanwhile, the property markets in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain shut. Home viewings are not permitted under lockdown regulations and their land registries are either running a reduced service or are not registering transactions.

Alistair Elliott, chairman and senior partner at estate agents Knight Frank, told the BBC’s Today programme the measures were “a major first step”.

“We believe the public will have confidence to re-engage with the housing market,” he said.

Jonathan Hopper, chief executive of real estate consultants Garrington Property Finders, said: “Few things are more likely to make people want to move than being cooped up in the same four walls for weeks on end, and property portals have seen traffic increase by up to a fifth.”

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