Boris Johnson has confirmed England will progress to the next stage of lockdown lifting on 12 April as he said the roadmap was on track.
The government also announced it will press ahead with developing controversial coronavirus passports, pointing out certification was “likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes”.
While the prime minister said he was hopeful over the lifting of the ban on foreign holidays from 17 May, the government said it was still too soon to say, highlighting “the state of the pandemic abroad, and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries”, and advised people not to book summer breaks abroad “until the picture is clearer”.
A further easing of COVID-19 restrictions comes after all four official tests – a successful vaccine deployment programme, coronavirus hospitalisation and death rates under control, infections not putting pressure on the NHS, and the risk assessment not changed by variants – were met.
Under the next step in the roadmap, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers, nail salons and libraries will reopen from next Monday.
Bars and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors, but groups will be limited to two households or by the “rule of six”.
Speaking at a Downing Street news briefing, Mr Johnson said: “We see nothing in our present data that makes us think that we’ll have to deviate from the roadmap.”
He added: “On Monday 12th [April], I will be going to the pub myself and cautiously but irreversibly raising a pint of beer to my lips.”
But he also warned over the continuing threat posed by the virus and said: “We can’t be complacent. We can see the waves of sickness affecting other countries and we have seen how this story goes.
“We still don’t know how strong the vaccine shield will be when cases begin to rise, as I’m afraid that they will, and that’s why we are saying please get your vaccine – or your second dose – when your turn comes.”
The move to relax the rules came as the government published the latest findings from its reviews of COVID status certification and international travel.
The document stated: “The government believes that COVID-status certification could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure.”
However, the development of such a system faces opposition from MPs on both sides of the Commons, who argue it is “divisive and discriminatory”.
A certificate could take account of whether someone had received a vaccine, had a negative coronavirus test or had contracted and recovered from COVID-19 within the past six months.
Mr Johnson acknowledged there were “complicated ethical and practical issues”, particularly if the certificates were confined only to cover vaccines, which is why ministers were also considering test results and evidence of having natural antibodies.
But he said a certification scheme would not be introduced before either the 12 April easing of lockdown or the planned measures for 17 May which would see pubs and restaurants serving customers indoors.
The review stressed that public transport and essential shops and services would never require COVID status certification, but it could play a role in allowing people to return to theatres, nightclubs, and mass events such as festivals or sports fixtures.
It was also possible that requiring customers to prove their status could “play a role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings which people tend to visit more frequently” such as pubs or restaurants.
While the roadmap said 17 May was the earliest possible date foreign holidays could resume, the global review stated: “Given the state of the pandemic abroad, and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries, we are not yet in a position to confirm that non-essential international travel can resume from that point.”
It confirmed that when it did return, it would see the introduction of a risk-based “traffic light” system, where arrivals from green list nations would not need to quarantine, although tests would still be required.
The review document added: “For the moment, the government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer.”
On the continued easing of the lockdown on 17 May, Mr Johnson said “things still seem set fair” for that date, but England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty warned “this virus will be with us for the foreseeable future”.