Boris Johnson is set to announce new lockdown easing plans today that will allow pubs, restaurants, museums and cinemas to begin re-opening in England from July 4.
The Prime Minister is also expected to review the two-metre social distancing rule, amid widespread predictions it will be cut to one metre.
He will brief the Cabinet on the proposals before outlining them in the House of Commons later today. Some Tory MPs have put pressure on the PM to ease the two-metre requirement in order to get the hospitality sector back up and running.
Many pubs and restaurants have warned that it would be impossible for them to operate as long as the rule remains in place, with others saying their businesses may never reopen if they are not given the green light this week.
But some scientists have expressed concern that the Government is moving too quickly to ease restrictions, arguing the science has not changed since the two-metre rule was put in place. The latest figures from the Department of Health showed that up to 9am yesterday there were 958 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the previous 24 hours.
Experts argue that the track-and-trace system to contain any fresh outbreaks is not fully up and running. Lucy Yardley, professor of health psychology at the University of Bristol and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Newsnight there was a ‘danger’ that some people thought lockdown had ended.
Professor Yardley said ‘you could argue that we were never so much listening to the Government as doing what we thought was right at the right time’ and added it ‘would be much harder’ to impose lockdown for a second time.
The review of the two-metre rule drew on advice from economists as well as medical and scientific experts. Ministers will discuss the new measures at the cabinet meeting this morning, with Brandon Lewis telling Sky News this morning that the health of the public will be at the forefront of considerations.
Detailed sector-by-sector guidance will be published for businesses in England – from hotels to hairdressers – on how to re-open in a Covid-secure manner on the July 4 opening date.
Cinemas, museums and art galleries will also be able to begin welcoming back visitors under the latest stage of the Government’s road map for lifting the lockdown.
It could mean introducing one-way systems, spaced queuing, increased ventilation, and pre-booked tickets to ensure people can return safely.
Elsewhere, ministers having suggested installing perspex screens, altering seating arrangements and requiring the wearing of face coverings to mitigate the risk of spreading the disease as the rules are eased.
Customers at pubs and bars may have to sign guest books with their names and contact details so they could be traced if they come into contact with someone who is infected.
Mr Johnson discussed the plan on Monday with the Covid-19 strategy committee including the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty.
Downing Street insisted ministers ‘will not hesitate’ to reimpose controls if the spread of the virus picks up again.
A No 10 source said: ‘We are only able to move forward this week because the vast majority of people have taken steps to control the virus.
‘But the more we open up, the more important it is that everyone follows the social-distancing guidelines.
‘We will not hesitate to reverse these steps if it is necessary to stop the virus running out of control.’
Earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government was able to act because the numbers of new coronavirus cases, admissions to hospital, and deaths from the diseases were all continuing to fall.
He told the daily No 10 briefing on Monday that just one-in-1,700 people were now estimated to be infected with the virus, compared to one-in-400 a month ago.
‘All these figures are coming down and pointing in the right direction. It shows that while there is still much to do, we are clearly making progress,’ he said.
Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said that even as the rules were eased people still needed to follow social distancing, including regular hand-washing and good respiratory hygiene.
‘There is a critical point here that says just because life is feeling a bit more back to normal don’t suddenly jump to where you were this time last year. We need to learn to go forward with restrictions in our lives,’ she said.
For more stories like this, check our news page.Follow us: