Pubs across England could be serving customers again by Easter weekend, with Boris Johnson planning a three-stage reopening the economy and easing the country out of lockdown.
The prime minister’s route out of the current national restrictions will begin with the reopening of schools, already scheduled for 8 March, according to The i.
Ministers will then assess the impact of pupils returning to classrooms on the coronavirus reproduction – or R number – before moving to the next stage, the paper said.
If the R number – which fell below one on Friday for the first time since July – remains low and Covid-19 infections stay at an “acceptable level”, Johnson will then give the thumbs up for non-essential to reopen towards the end of March.
Contingent on the level of infection staying low in the week leading up to Good Friday on 2 April, hospitality businesses – including pubs, restaurants and hotels – will be able to open their doors again from the Easter weekend.
A government official told The i: “My understanding is the Prime Minister is encouraged by a slew of data coming out that shows the positive impact the current lockdown has had. By March, there’s also a good chance that almost, if not all over-50s and younger vulnerable groups would have been given at least their first dose of a vaccine.
“The optimism is increasing at Downing Street and we may well be enjoying a pint in the pub by Easter if the data continues to improve in the coming weeks.”
According to the Sun, indoor mixing in pubs and restaurants is being planned for May – which hospitality businesses open for outdoor table service only in April. It is likely that the “rule of six” and social distancing measures stay in place throughout the summer, it adds.
A government source told the paper: “If hospital numbers and cases continue to fall at the current rate we will hopefully be sipping pints in the spring sunshine sooner rather than later.”
Meanwhile the government is launching a fresh drive to encourage people to accept a coronavirus vaccine amid continuing reluctance among some groups to have the jab.
Ministers are confident they will achieve their UK-wide target of getting an offer of a vaccine to those most at risk from the virus – including all over 70s – by Monday’s deadline.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hoped a combination of vaccines and new treatments will mean Covid-19 could be a “treatable disease” by the end of the year.
However, there is concern in Government at the rate of vaccine uptake among some communities – including some ethnic minorities.
Hancock issued a direct appeal to anyone over 70 who has still not had the jab to contact the NHS over the weekend to book an appointment.
“I am determined that we protect as many of our country’s most vulnerable people from this awful disease as soon as possible,” he said. “Vaccines are the way out of this pandemic.”