Addressing MPs in the House of Commons this afternoon (22 February), Boris Johnson confirmed that restaurants and pubs will be able to reopen for dine-in guests from 17 May 'at the earliest' under a four-stage plan for lifting restrictions in England.
As had been rumoured, outdoor hospitality settings including pub beer gardens will be able to reopen earlier than indoor ones and are scheduled to unlock from 12 April.
Johnson said his roadmap is designed to guide the country 'cautiously but irreversibly' out of lockdown, with each stage of the plan separated by a five-week gap to gauge how the easing impacts transmission levels.
The roadmap will be set against four key tests that will determine if restrictions can be lifted at each stage.
These include the continued successful deployment of the vaccine programme; evidence that jabs are reducing hospital admissions and deaths; and Covid infection rates remaining at a level that doesn't risk a surge in hospital admissions.
Restrictions will be eased nationally, not under regional tiers as was the case following the lockdown in November last year.
The four-stage plan will enter its first phase on 8 March with the reopening of schools, with recreation between two people in outside spaces also permitted from the same day.
From 29 March, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed.
The second stage of the plan will begin from 12 April with the reopening of outdoor hospitality settings, as well as non-essential retail and indoor leisure.
As has previously been reported, both the hospitality curfew and 'substantial meal' rule will be scrapped, although wider social contact rules such as the 'rule of six' will, at this stage. remain in place.
From 17 May the country will enter the third stage of the Prime Minister's plan, which will see indoor hospitality settings including restaurants, pubs, hotels and B&Bs able to reopen with social contact rules.
At the same time, however, the 'rule of six' will be abolished for outdoor gatherings, replaced with a limit of 30 people.
The fourth and final step will be implemented no earlier than 21 June and will see night-time economy businesses, such as nightclubs, finally allowed to reopen after more than a year a closure.
All legal limits on mixing are expected to be removed at this time.
With much of the sector still facing around three months of closure, further pressure will now fall on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to deliver a substantial package of financial support to see hospitality businesses through the protracted closure.
“We are pleased to hear within the Prime Minister’s statement the inclusion of a timeline for night-time economy businesses," says Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association.
“Despite this, our evidence suggests that 85% of those who work in the night time economy are considering leaving the sector. The sector urgently needs additional clarity on reopening and critical financial support from the Chancellor if we are to avoid economic and social damage that will last a generation.”