Pubs, restaurants and hotels in England are preparing to reopen on July 4 with Boris Johnson expected to ease the coronavirus lockdown and possibly cut the two-metre rule.
The hospitality sector has been hit hard by the shutdown and is eager to restart as there are fears many businesses, even big chains, will not survive if the measures last any longer.
Beer gardens could be patrolled to enforce social distancing when pubs finally reopen, and restaurants will have measures such as decontamination chambers, mannequins at tables to keep diners apart and an app to book a trip to the toilet.
Hospitality staff will wear PPE, hotel porters will leave room service outside bedroom doors and self-service buffets will be banned as Britain gets back to “the new normal”.
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Boris Johnson is expected to make an announcement next week on pubs, cafes, restaurants and hotels – with their reopening in England an ambition from July 4 to start reviving the ailing economy.
The two-metre social distancing rule could be relaxed, with a review due within days.
With the coronavirus alert level having been reduced on Friday, the Prime Minister believes he has some space to relax measures in a boost for the sector.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told BBC Radio 4 that the review the PM ordered into the two-metre social distancing rule would be concluded “within the coming days”, while Whitehall officials confirmed the outcome is expected next week.
The rule seeks to slow the spread of Covid-19 but would be a heavy restraint on the hospitality sector when it reopens, with many bosses favouring the distance being reduced.
Guidance drawn up by the sector and ministers is understood to encourage pubgoers to order drinks using apps instead of going to the bar.
Pubs could be patrolled to ensure social-distancing measures are enforced under plans to ease the lockdown for the hospitality sector. Tables will be spread out and some restaurants may even use mannequins to force people to sit apart.
The Times reported that restaurant tables would not be set in advance and room service would be left outside doors in hotels under the guidance.
Napkins and cutlery will only be brought out with food to cut the risk of transmission.
Disposable menus – featuring fewer options than before – will be thrown out after each use.
Waiters must wash their hands between serving different tables.
And if hotel guests become ill they will be asked to return to their own home or self-isolate in their rooms, which will be blocked off for 72 hours after checkout.
It was being stressed that decisions on further easings were yet to be made, but the PM said the lowering of the alert level from four to three allows ministers to “start making some progress” on social-distancing measures.
And he promised new guidance for the hospitality sector and businesses “very shortly”.
A scientist advising the Government’s coronavirus response said it would now be reasonable to reduce the two-metre rule to just one with “various caveats and other precautions”.
The University of Liverpool’s Professor Calum Semple, a member of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The reason that I change my mind now and whereas I was of a very different opinion three weeks ago is that now we are in a position where there are low levels and sustained low levels of transmission throughout the country.
“I’m still saying two metres is safer than one but in my opinion it is now a reasonable political decision to relax these rules, perhaps accelerate school opening and start opening up other parts of the economy, where it becomes harder to maintain the two-metre rule and where you might envisage going down to one metre with various caveats and other precautions and have a nuanced and flexible approach to allow parts of society to get going.”
The UK Hospitality trade body said draft Government guidance to restart the sector contains a “degree of flexibility” for different businesses to put forward plans to be safe to reopen.
Chief executive Kate Nicholls told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the plan was for guidelines to be in place to “allow individual companies, individual premises, to undertake a detailed risk assessment and propose and put forward the control measures that they feel are necessary to keep their team safe and their guests safe”.
She said it was “possible for certain types of premises” to throw out menus after every use and to bring out cutlery only with food.
But she added: “Other types of premises will choose to manage their risk in a different way and from the guidelines we’ve seen in draft from the Government when they published them for consultation did allow that degree of flexibility rather than being a one-size-fits-all approach.
“As the guidelines cover from a burger van in a park right the way through to the Fat Duck in Bray you need to have something that takes account everything in between rather than a one-size-fits-all.”
Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith said the two-metre distancing rule should be reduced before companies start “calling it a day” and cutting jobs.
He told BBC Breakfast: “The economy is teetering at the moment, so we’re supporting lots of people through the furlough schemes and through loans, and these are of course going to have to come to an end.
“If we don’t get the economy moving now, which is why the two to one metre is so critical, then we will see companies simply calling it a day and putting people onto unemployment.”
The downgrading – recommended by the Joint Biosecurity Centre (JBC) – means transmission of coronavirus is no longer considered to be “high or rising exponentially”.
Localised outbreaks of Covid-19 are still “likely” to occur, the advisers warned, and the virus remains in general circulation.
Mr Johnson also told the public on Friday to “watch this space” when asked whether the distance restriction could be reduced to help schools in England return in autumn.
He has been under significant pressure from Conservatives to relax the distance and on Friday night former business secretary Greg Clark said evidence from other nations is “lower social distancing has worked”.
“It’s important we should benefit, it seems to me, from the experiences of others in this,” the Tory MP told BBC Newsnight.
Government scientific advisers have said they would be comfortable with a reduced distance if risk-mitigating measures were taken, such as people sitting side by side and wearing face coverings.
The PM also said it is his intention that children of all ages in England should be able to return to school on a five-days-a-week basis in September.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson suggested that primary school class sizes of 15, known as “bubbles”, could be expanded back to their normal size to allow more children back in the classroom.
At the Downing Street daily briefing, Mr Williamson said he wanted all year groups to return to school “full-time” in September, adding that further guidance on safety measures will be published in the next two weeks.
The comments came as the Government’s £1 billion plan to help pupils catch up with learning came under fire from education leaders.
Head teachers said they were not consulted on the details of the scheme, which will see the most disadvantaged children in England given access to funds to pay for tutors while the majority of the funding will be shared across schools to help pupils from all backgrounds affected by the lockdown.
College and nursery leaders have criticised the Government for leaving their pupils out after it announced that £650 million would only be given to state primary and secondary schools for the 2020-21 academic year.
A further £350 million will be spent on a one-year subsidised national tutoring programme targeted at the most disadvantaged pupils in schools.
Sector leaders say the funding will not reach young children in nurseries and college students who are most “in need of support” amid the pandemic.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford was planning to end its five-mile restriction on travel next month and allow holidaymakers to return a week later.
And in Northern Ireland, most pupils are set for a return to education in the autumn after ministers agreed to cut the social distancing measure to one metre.