Almost two months after implementing lockdown measures, prime minister Boris Johnson has said the hospitality industry could begin to reopen from July with social distancing measures in place.
The lessening of restrictions in some areas of the industry will come in stage three of the plan to lift the lockdown, which was implemented to control the spread of coronavirus, and will be dependent on the government's five conditions being met.
These five conditions are protecting the NHS, a sustained and consistent fall in deaths, the rate of infection decreasing to "manageable levels", ensuring the supply of tests and PPE meets demand, and avoiding a second peak.
The first steps in relaxing the lockdown will be introduced from tomorrow, with people who cannot work from home actively encouraged to return to their workplaces, avoiding public transport if possible.
However, the prime minister stressed that social distancing will remain in place and would be implemented in those hospitality businesses permitted to welcome guests, if the fall in cases allows them to begin reopening from July. No further details on what the relaxation of restrictions on hospitality businesses could look like, or which areas of the sector they would apply to, were given.
UKHospitality said tonight's statement "leaves the door open" to extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for those sectors that will take longer to reopen and return to profitability, something operators told The Caterer this evening would be essential.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: "Mr Johnson was explicit about his commitment to support those workers whose businesses are not able to return soon, and we remain committed to continuing our dialogue with the government to achieve that. We have been calling for a more flexible, extended furlough system and today's statement appears to leave the door open for that.
"UKHospitality has already been working up protocols for implementation in different parts of the sector, to allow venues to confidently open their doors when it is safe to do so. This is very much consistent with the approach of ‘Covid secure' standards that the prime minister referenced. He recognised in his statement that some parts of business will be able to open and others won't – we will work to ensure that the government is well-placed to support those in hospitality that need longer, as well as on enabling those who are able to return."
Johnson tonight said the measures already taken have prevented a "reasonable worst-case scenario of half a million fatalities", adding that it would be "madness to throw away that achievement by allowing a second spike" stressing that this was not the end of lockdown but the "first careful steps".
From Wednesday people will also be able to undertake "unlimited exercise" with members of their own households, but fines for breaking social distancing rules while doing this will be increased.
Stage two of the relaxation, which could be introduced from 1 June at the earliest, would see a phased reopening of shops and schools.
Stage three will be enacted in July "at the earliest", with further details expected to be released tomorrow in a written report.
The prime minister has said some further restrictions will also be introduced, including a quarantine period for those entering the UK by air.
The threat posed by the virus will be measured by a new five-stage system called the Covid Alert level, which will dictate how severe distancing measures are.
Lockdown measures had been introduced by the prime minister on 23 March, three days after restaurants, pubs and cafés had been told to close.