The government is poised to let England’s pubs and restaurants sell food and drink from street stalls.
Sources confirmed ministers are looking at letting firms set up ‘market-style’ stalls for takeaways within weeks.
There is a big condition, though – these firms must have a licence for tables and chairs at the front of their premises.
The plan, which is still being considered, could let some pubs creak slowly back into life before they can actually open their doors.
Existing plans say pubs, cafes and restaurants could start to reopen from July, but only limited open-air dining areas would be included in this first wave.
Sources have made clear pubs have next to no chance of reopening fully in July, and may not even open in July at all.
So according to the Sunday Telegraph, Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick will issue guidance to give pubs a tiny bit more freedom.
The guidance will reportedly say shops, restaurants and pubs can set up stalls out front – but only in areas where they already have a licence to place tables and chairs.
A Whitehall source said it could lead to a “more vibrant style of continental town centres in the summer”.
Pubs, cafes and restaurants are already able to run as takeaways during the pandemic.
And separately, outdoor market stalls that sell food are already allowed to carry on running.
However, these two different rules have not been formally combined until now.
But those hoping for a return of beer gardens will be left disappointed.
There is still no sign that any seating areas of any kind, even outdoors, will reopen at all before July.
Instead, people might be expected to take their food or drink and move away to a public open space like a park, where they are allowed to sit down.
People must still stay two metres apart and gatherings of more than two are banned unless you’re from the same household.
If two people from different households meet, they must sit two metres apart.
It seems likely any guidance would only apply to England, because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all set out their own lockdown easing plans.
It comes despite pubs and trade bodies calling on the Government to go further and let them open beer gardens, as long as tables are spread out.
Peter Borg-Neal, founder of Oakman Inns, told the Mirror last week: “We could use free standing screens to separate tables, or use a natural gap of two metres, have staggered bookings, contactless payments and handwash stations.
“Simple common sense, carefully applied with trained staff should work.”
Pub, cafe and restaurants will only begin after England enters “step three” of easing the lockdown.
Step one happened in the last week, and involved being able to exercise unlimited times per day and sit still in an open space.
Step two, from June 1 at the earliest, will involve reopening primary schools and some non-essential shops in a “phased” way.
Step three, from July 4 at the earliest, will allow the first reopenings of venues in the hospitality industry.
But all the dates could be knocked off course if there is a spike in the virus, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are on different timelines.