Boris Johnson has hinted pubs, bars and other hospitality businesses will be the last to reopen when he lifts England’s lockdown in “stages”.
On Monday the prime minister is set to unveil his plan for the easing of restrictions over the coming months.
“It’ll be based firmly on a cautious and prudent approach to coming out of lockdown in such a way as to be irreversible,” he said on Wednesday. “We want to be going one way from now on based on the incredible vaccination rollout.”
Schools are expected to be the first part of society to reopen, with March 8 pencilled in as the earliest possible date.
Asked during a broadcast interview when the hospitality sector could be allowed to reopen in England, Johnson said: “I certainly think we need to go in stages. We need go cautiously.
“You perhaps remember last year we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things we did. There is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality.”
He added: “Just wait. We will try and say as much as we can on Monday.”
Dame Angela McLean, the chief scientific adviser at the Ministry of Defence, told MPs things were “all moving in the right direction” as infections are falling along with hospitalisation numbers and deaths.
But she also warned the lockdown should be lifted in a “cautious” way. “There’s still a lot of infected people out there,” she said.
The Daily Mail has reported ministers are weighing up allowing domestic holiday lets to open in time for the Easter weekend and that pubs could open in May, but with only two households permitted to mix indoors. According to the paper, the rule of six could then return for mixing inside by June.
Johnson’s comments came after NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, who represents NHS trusts, said there was a “pretty clear view” the number of coronavirus infections needs to plummet to under 50,000 before lockdown should be eased.
The most recent estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), released on Friday, suggested 695,400 people in England had Covid.
According to The Daily Telegraph cases would need to drop to 1,000 per day before lockdown could be softened, a figure suggested by former health secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this month.
On Tuesday 10,625 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the UK, down from a peak of 68,053 on on January 8. The last time the infection rate was regularly below 1,000 a day was in August.