From Monday next week, pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen for indoor eating and drinking, while cinemas, hotels and B&Bs will be able to open their doors to customers for the first time in many months.
Industry leaders welcomed the move, which they said would allow 1 million workers to return from furlough, but urged the prime minister to bring forward confirmation of the final unlocking of society on 21 June.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, warned that the future of many businesses will remain uncertain unless Mr Johnson accelerates his current timetable of delaying that announcement until mid-June.
Next week’s relaxation of lockdown comes despite Michael Gove saying that there was “genuine worry” over virus mutations. Cases of the Indian variant more than doubled in England over the last week, but PHE said there was “insufficient evidence” to suggest that it causes more severe illness or makes Covid-19 vaccines any less effective.
After securing approval from the cabinet in a video call on Monday morning, Mr Johnson will announce the third major step towards normality in line with the fastest schedule set out in his roadmap to recovery in February.
In a press conference at Downing Street, the prime minister will confirm that England is meeting the four tests for further easing, with the vaccine deployment programme continuing successfully; hospitalisations and deaths falling; no unsustainable pressure on the NHS; and no fundamental increase in risk from Covid-19 variants.
He will say: “The data reflects what we already knew – we are not going to let this virus beat us. The roadmap remains on track, our successful vaccination programme continues – more than two-thirds of adults in the UK have now had the first vaccine – and we can now look forward to unlocking cautiously but irreversibly.
“It’s because of the British public’s unwavering commitment that we are saving lives, protecting the NHS and controlling the virus.”
Ms Nicholls told The Independent: “It is very welcome to have confirmation that we can move to step 3 and reopen indoor hospitality from 17 May. This will allow us to bring over a million workers back from furlough and provide a route back to viability for many thousands of businesses.”
But she added: “However, until we have confirmation that all restrictions will be lifted on 21 June, businesses will struggle to break even and their future will continue to be uncertain.
From 17 May, groups of up to 30 will be permitted to meet outdoors in England, while indoor gatherings will be limited to six people or two households.
Most businesses will be able to reopen, except for the most high-risk sectors, like nightclubs.
Covid-secure guidance on masks and social distancing will remain in place, but indoor hospitality will reopen with no curfews.
Also opening their doors will be cinemas, children’s play areas, hotels, hostels and B&Bs, along with indoor adult group sports and exercise classes.
Audiences can also return to concerts, performances and sporting events, with a limit of 1,000 people or half of venue capacity indoors and 4,000 or half of capacity outdoors. In the largest outdoor seated venues, where crowds can be spread out, up to 10,000 people will be able to attend – so long as numbers remain below one-quarter of total capacity.
Up to 30 people will be able to attend weddings, receptions and wakes, as well as funerals and other significant life events like bar mitzvahs and christenings.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “This is another important step on the road to freedom and the recovery of our sector. We know Brits cannot wait to get back inside a warm pub.
“However, inside opening with restrictions is still not enough to secure the survival of pubs. We need them to be fully reopened without any restrictions at all from 21 June to survive and trade viably.”
More than 50 million vaccine doses have been administered in the UK and the government says it remains “on track” to offer all adults a first dose by the end of July.
Infection rates are at the lowest level since September, and hospital admissions are at levels similar to July last year. Latest estimates suggest 1 in 1,180 have Covid-19, down from 1 in 480 at the start of April.
Speaking ahead of the lifting of restrictions, Mr Gove said: “I’m genuinely worried, as everyone should be, about incidents of variants of concern, but there’s no indication at the moment that it need slow down the relaxation that we have as part of the roadmap.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies