Social distancing rules will be scrapped entirely from June 21 in England’s pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas, it’s claimed today.
Indoor venues will be able to operate at full capacity for the first time in 15 months once England enters Step Four of its lockdown roadmap, The Times reported.
But masks, screens and one-way systems appear likely to stay to mitigate the risks, despite the government’s aim to end all legal restrictions at that point. That could mean cinema and theatre-goers keeping masks on during shows.
And the biggest venues would have to operate at reduced capacity to ease strain on public transport.
A government source played down the report, telling the Mirror the policy “genuinely isn’t decided yet”.
It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said the UK was on the “last lap” – and 5,000 mask-free people packed Liverpool’s Sefton Park shoulder-to-shoulder for a gig by Blossoms.
The event was part of a pilot of relaxing social distancing, and punters had to produce a negative Covid test before going in.
A government source told The Times: “The pilots have shown us that mitigations have worked sufficiently to allow us to remove social distancing, at least in the settings that we really need to in order to get them in a viable position again.
“The kind of thing we’re looking at is keeping in place mask wearing, extra ventilation, staggered entry – all of that has been shown to have worked so far.”
Indoor gatherings of up to six people, or two households if that’s larger, will be allowed from May 17 at the earliest under England’s Step Three. At the same time, the cap of 30 mourners at funerals will be axed, with venues told to follow social distancing instead.
An update on which foreign countries will be on the “green list” for foreign holidays from May 17 is also expected this week.
Mr Raab made clear yesterday that some restrictions will remain beyond June 21 – the earliest date for Step Four of the roadmap.
He said “there will still need to be some safeguards in place”, and a review “will be particularly I think around distancing, maybe there’ll be something around masks”. He added: “Those are just some of the options.”
He added: “By the time we get to June 21 almost all social restrictions will be lifted so there’s only a little bit more time to go.
“But it’s right to make sure we do that in a careful way.”
Despite the hope, he urged people not to let down their guard yet – even for “hugging your loved ones that you haven’t been able to do for a while”. The Cabinet minister told Sky News: “I do think we just need to make sure that in the last lap, if you like, that we are careful and we don’t lose the gains we’ve made.”
The Times’ report echoes a story in the Mail on Sunday, which reported the “one-metre-plus” social distancing rule in pubs and restaurants will be axed in Step Four.
Currently pub and restaurant customers and staff must keep two metres away from people in other households – or one metre plus “mitigations” like masks and screens if that is not possible.
But the biggest events will still have a cap on numbers beyond June 21, according to The Times, to avoid “pinch points” on public transport.
That suggests Wembley Stadium will be half-empty the for group matches and the European Championship final on July 11.
The existing roadmap says big events will be allowed with reduced capacity from May 17, with outdoor venues allowed to be half-full or have 4,000 punters, whichever is lower. The biggest stadiums can have up to 10,000 people.