Cinemas, museums and galleries in England are to be allowed to re-open from 4 July, in the latest move by Boris Johnson to restore normal life after the three-month coronavirus lockdown.
But, as the government moves to rescue the arts and culture, they are likely to be ordered to introduce one-way systems, spaced queueing, increased ventilation and pre-booked tickets.
At the same time, the prime minister is taking the axe to the two-metre social distancing rule, as he also throws open the doors of England’s pubs, restaurants and hairdressers after the lockdown.
In a shake-up demanded by Tory MPs that will delight business chiefs, drinkers, foodies and anyone needing a haircut, the Mr Johnson will confirm the changes will all take effect from 4 July.
The lockdown easing for the arts and culture will also be warmly welcomed by the hospitality and entertainment industries, which have feared catastrophic financial losses and closures.
Mr Johnson is also expected to announce an expansion of “social bubbles” in which people will be allowed to mix freely, in changes aimed at helping more children see their grandparents.
But the prime minister will make clear that the public must continue to follow social distancing guidelines to keep the coronavirus under control and any easing of restrictions could be reversed if the virus risks running out of control.
“We are only able to move forward this week because the vast majority of people have taken steps to control the virus,” a Number 10 source said.
“But the more we open up, the more important it is that everyone follows the social distancing guidelines. We will not hesitate to reverse these steps if it is necessary to stop the virus running out of control.”
The 4 July scrapping of coronavirus lockdown restrictions – already being hailed as “independence day” and “super Saturday” – will be approved by the Cabinet before Mr Johnson makes a Commons statement to MPs.
But there will be conditions.
Under a new “one-metre-plus” plan, it is thought Mr Johnson will emphasise that people must remain two metres apart unless they are wearing a mask or there are other mitigating reasons.
And pubs and restaurants are likely to be very different from pre-lockdown when they reopen, taking the names and details of customers, erecting screens between tables and using throw-away menus.
The changes come after a day when it was announced that there were only 958 new cases of coronavirus and 15 deaths, prompting the Health Secretary Matt Hancock to declare: “The virus is in retreat.”
Ahead of the Cabinet meeting to approve the changes, the ending of the two-metre rule was signed off at a meeting of senior ministers who make up the government’s COVID-19 strategy committee.
The prime minister will also announce that the government is tabling legislation including a raft of deregulation measures to help businesses such as pubs and restaurants reopen.
The Business and Planning Bill, to be introduced in the Commons this week, will include proposals to help businesses to sell food and drink in pavement cafes, beer gardens and other open spaces.
Mr Johnson is also expected to spell out changes to the controversial quarantine plan under which people arriving in the UK, including Britons returning home, have to self-isolate for two weeks.
In a move Tory MPs and the aviation industry has been demanding for weeks, he is likely he will announce further exemptions and list countries from which travellers will no longer be forced to stay in quarantine for a fortnight.
But in what will be seen as the government’s latest coronavirus U-turn, it is thought the prime minister is poised to abandon plans to overturn Sunday trading laws to allow all-day opening seven days a week.
Up to 50 Tory MPs have threatened to vote with Labour and the other opposition parties against extending Sunday trading hours – a rebellion that could potentially produce a humiliating government defeat.
Conservative prime ministers relax Sunday trading laws at their peril.
In 1986, despite Margaret Thatcher’s 144-seat Commons majority, her Shops Bill was defeated at second reading as 72 Tory MPs rebelled.
And in 2016, 27 Conservative MPs rebelled and inflicted a crippling defeat on David Cameron, in an embarrassing blow for then-chancellor George Osborne, who claimed extending Sunday opening would boost the economy.
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