Some were accompanied with laughter, others with tears. There were shy, tentative cuddles but also great bear-sized hugs.

After long months of abstention, families and friends across Wales were finally able to enjoy a cwtch – Welsh for a cuddle or hug – on Monday.

“We’re having a wonderful day,” said Ann Phillips, 66, who was relishing hugs with her daughter, Liz Phillips, 40, and cuddles with her six-month-old grandson, Theo Pryce. “Not being able to do this has felt really difficult, really unnatural.”

Outside, the bank holiday weather was dreadful but the family were able to hunker down inside and the grownups could enjoy the cake Ann had made, accompanied by endless cups of tea.

Liz said the family, from Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan, had been able to see each other outside. “But when the weather is bad, that’s not very easy, especially when you have a baby. We have got lots of grandparent/grandchild things to catch up on.”

A string of Covid restrictions were eased in Wales on Monday including the reopening of gyms, community centres and swimming pools. Thirty people were in the water at Penlan leisure centre in Swansea moments after it opened at midnight.

But the most eye-catching and heartwarming easing was that two households can now come together to form an “exclusive bubble”. Members of this bubble can meet indoors and – crucially – “have contact”, to use the Welsh government’s description.

Announcing the changes, the Welsh government said it had been able to make the changes before the rest of the UK because it had the lowest Covid rates and most advanced vaccination programme.

The Labour-led government dismissed the notion it was announcing good news to try to bolster its performance at this week’s Welsh parliament elections.

Rebecca Collins from Pontypridd in south Wales met her parents and two brothers, who all live together, indoors for the first time since Christmas Day.

They enjoyed a chicken dinner, which stood in for the Boxing Day and birthday celebrations they had missed. She told BBC Wales it was an emotional day. “We’ve missed each other a lot.”

This content first appear on the guardian

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