Coronavirus: Zoos among lockdown measures eased but schools reopening delayed

Boris Johnson is set to announce the reopening of zoos, safari parks and drive-in cinemas from June 15 - but children will have to wait until at least September to go back to school.

It comes after Business Secretary Alok Sharma confirmed shops would also be able to reopen on the same day as the Government seeks to kick-start the economy following the coronavirus lockdown.

But Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was forced to admit defeat over plans for all primary pupils in England to attend classes before the summer break.

Meanwhile health officials have warned that around 10million people will be on the waiting list for NHS treatment by the end of 2020 - more than double the current figure - due to a combination of social distancing measures, a backlog of treatments and staffing shortages.

Mr Johnson, who is to face off with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at prime minister’s questions, will reopen outdoor attractions where people remain in their cars, such as safari parks and drive-in cinemas, because the risk of spreading the disease is lower outside.

A Downing Street official said: “People are continuing to make huge sacrifices to reduce the spread of coronavirus and avoid a second spike, but we know it is tough and where we can safely open up more attractions, and it is supported by the science, we will do so.”

Questions remain as to how schools may return to normal as a number of councils, including in the north west of England, have opposed plans to reopen amid new data which suggested Covid-19 may still be spreading in the region.

Giraffes Maggie and Molly stand under a sign showing support for the NHS at ZSL London Zoo, which is set to be able to reopen from June 15. Credit: PA

Children in nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in England began returning to primary school last week after the Government eased lockdown measures.

But some schools said they did not have enough space on site to admit all pupils in the eligible year groups, while adhering to Government guidance to limit class sizes to 15 and encourage fewer interactions.

Mr Williamson said the Government would like to see schools who “have the capacity” bring back more pupils where possible before the summer break but conceded the Government was “working to bring all children back to school in September”.

Shops will only be able to reopen if they have completed a Covid-19 risk assessment and can implement social distancing measures.

But other businesses, including pubs, restaurants and hairdressers, will remain shut until July 4 at the earliest, Mr Sharma said.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Alok Sharma. Credit: PA

It comes as hospitality chiefs have warned the rule requiring people to stay two metres apart could jeopardise firms’ ability to reopen, with some asking for the distance to be halved.

Mr Sharma said the rule was being kept under review and “when it is safe to do so, we will see whether you can move to a shorter distance”.

Meanwhile, projections by the NHS Confederation show that the combined effects of keeping up social distancing, the backlog of treatments and challenges around staffing mean the list is expected to rise from around 4.2 million currently to around 10 million by Christmas.

The confederation, which represents health and care leaders, said the figures came from its most “realistic” scenario, which assumes the health service makes a steady return to full capacity within the next 12 months.

The full reopening of primary schools has been delayed by the Government. Credit: PA

The pessimistic scenario assumes a second wave of Covid-19 and a lack of treatments or a vaccine, pushing the waiting list to around 11 million by the end of the year.

The most optimistic scenario assumes a faster return to normal, where the waiting list will be around eight million by the end of the year.

The confederation published a new report warning the health service in England “faces an uphill battle” as it continues to manage thousands of sick and recovering Covid-19 patients while also trying to restart services such as those for cancer, stroke and heart disease.

The health leaders called on the Government to prepare the public not to expect the same level of service for many months, adding that some staff were so exhausted and traumatised from caring for coronavirus patients that they would need support.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know