Pubs and restaurants should be allowed to operate with minimal social distancing by the middle of June, hospitality chiefs have said.
The industry body UKHospitality published a 10-point plan on Thursday for the sector’s emergence from lockdown. It comes ahead of Boris Johnson unveiling the Government's official roadmap out of restrictions on Monday.
Earlier this the Prime Minister said the relaxation of lockdown measures would occur in "stages" and hinted that hospitality would trail other sectors in reopening.
"You have to remember from last year that we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things that we did because there is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality," he said.
UKHospitality called for clarity over reopening ambitions in his statement next week as it set out its own timetable for the loosening of safety measures.
The industry body forecast that restaurants, pubs and cafes should be able to reopen from the start of April, based on current projections for vaccination levels and infection rates. Covid-secure measures should then be used only during a transitionary period before restrictions are removed altogether in the summer, the blueprint said.
It called for recognition that hospitality is safe, having first implemented operational measures in premises when reopening after the first lockdown began in July, saying: "Hospitality businesses will not be starting from scratch but from a high baseline standard of safety already in place and proven to keep people safe."
Last year the hospitality sector lost £72 billion in sales, chalking up its worst year on record. By next month the industry will have faced national closure for six months in total because of the multiple lockdowns.
The UKHospitality roadmap said that from early April "a transitionary system, building on the measures introduced in July 2020, would enable a return to trading with minimal health risks".
"These could be reviewed in two-three weeks, with rules relaxed as appropriate. Local, tailored measures will be available to deal with outbreaks," it said.
"Everyone over the age of 50 and vulnerable should have received their second doses by mid-June. Infections should have fallen to very low levels, potentially in the low hundreds per day. This is the time for a more normalised trading regime."
In the short term, an extension to the five per cent VAT rate for hospitality is needed, as well as a continuation of the business rates holiday, UKHospitality said. It also stressed that the Government would need to play a part in encouraging the public to return to cities to dine and drink out.
Kate Nicholls, the UKHospitality chief executive, described the vaccine rollout as "hugely encouraging" and said it "offers not just hospitality but the whole of society a clear exit from this current lockdown".
Firm dates for opening are needed so businesses can organise the return of staff, negotiate rent with landlords and re-engage with suppliers, she said, urging Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, to extend business support measures at the Budget on March 3.