Environment Secretary George Eustice confirmed that pubs with beer gardens are likely to be the first venues in the hospitality sector to reopen.

Drinkers have been disappointed so far with no firm date for their locals to reopen as experts feel that social distancing would be almost impossible to enforce in a crowded boozer.

But today top Tory Mr Eustice gave a glimmer of hope that beer gardens could present a way of drinking safely.

Hetold Sky News: "The sectors that are going to have the greatest challenge getting back to work, which we recognise, and I'm sure the Chancellor recognises this too - the hospitality sector and some of those other ticketed venues, in particular cinemas and in particular theatres, restaurants and pubs, will also face a challenge getting back in to operation.

"And that is why we won't be loosening the restrictions on them until at least July and even then it is likely that in the case of pubs and restaurants it will begin with beer gardens and outdoor areas only."

Environment Secretary George Eustice

The government said pubs would not be able to reopen until 4 July at the earliest.

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced an easing of a number of the lockdown measures.

He said that all five of his tests to move into the next phase had been met, allowing schools to begin reopening and greater contact to be permitted from Monday.

Mr Johnson on Thursday said people would be able to see "both parents at once, or both grandparents at once" in what he said would be a "long-awaited and joyful moment" for many as he said people would be allowed to meet outside in groups of six.

In Scotland, a gradual relaxation begins on Friday with a similar plan to allow outside gatherings, though First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is permitting groups of up to eight people.

Her Welsh counterpart, Mark Drakeford, is set to announce that outdoor meet-ups can resume from Monday, but he will unveil new "stay local" guidance to not travel more than five miles.

The easing of restrictions begins re-opening the economy, with outdoor retail and car showrooms opening in England from Monday ahead of a greater opening of non-essential shops.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to announce fresh details over the next phase of the furlough scheme designed to prevent lay-offs in the coming days.

Treasury sources did not deny reports that the Chancellor is set to ask employers to contribute 20% of wages, as well as National Insurance and pensions contributions from August.

Mr Sunak is facing calls, including from a cross-party group of 113 MPs, to extend the scheme supporting self-employed workers past Sunday or risk leaving many "without work and without support".

At the daily Downing Street briefing, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance stressed "there is not a lot of room" to ease measures, with new Covid-19 cases still around 8,000 per day.

He warned that with the rate of transmission, or R value, "close to one", the test and trace system must be effective in order to prevent exponential spread returning.

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Coronavirus outbreak

Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty stressed that although groups of six would be able to meet up outside to socialise and even enjoy barbecues people from different households must keep two metres apart.

Prof Whitty said the more than one million people deemed extremely clinically vulnerable must continue shielding, but offered a glimmer of hope when he said that the infection level may be sufficiently reduced to allow their freedom "relatively soon".

As lockdown begins to ease, the World Health Organisation's Covid-19 special envoy, Dr David Nabarro, warned "this virus has not gone away".

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Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "So what was happening through the lockdown was that a very large amount of illness was prevented from becoming totally catastrophic right across the country and the outbreaks that did occur subsided and were contained.

"And now we have to keep them at the minimum possible level by being on constant defence and at the same time by being very focused on where, if it is necessary, to have further movement restrictions where these are put in place."

Dr Nabarro added: "I don't think people should feel it is going to go on constantly with everybody being in lockdown, but it will be a different normal from that that we were used to six or seven months ago.

"We will have to be more respectful when it comes to how we relate to other people, particularly in very confined spaces where we know this virus can easily transmit."