Planning for the UK’s exit strategy from the coronavirus lockdown could begin within 10 days with coffee shops and restaurants among the first outlets to re-open.
Chief medical officer Prof Chris Whitty said experts hope to know if the peak of infections had been reached and to judge how to enter the next phase in a way based on evidence.
The Government is set to extend the lockdown for at least another three weeks later today amid growing fears of a lengthy economic downturn.
Some sources are quoted as saying ministers have been advised to re-open high streets on a limited scale in the wait for a vaccine against Covid-19.
Restaurants and coffee shops could be back up and running quickly – though all premises will need to meet social distancing measures.
Conservative peer Lord Gadhia and GlaxoSmithKline chairman Sir Jonathan Symonds have compiled the report urging government to consider steps to allow the country to resume some form of normality.
Lord Gadhia and Sir Jonathan’s report said the first stages of re-opening the economy should look at sectors with the “greatest multiplier effects with minimum risks”.
They earmarked coffee shops and restaurants due to their potential for supporting agriculture, while describing the property market as another sector with a “wide” impact.
“We need to avoid a stop-start economy which would sap public morale and damage business confidence yet further,” they added.
The pair also backed reported plans to get pupils back behind their desks.
However, there is still a Cabinet split over exactly when to lift restrictions. Advisors have been clear the lockdown cannot be eased until it is clear the UK is past its peak.
And Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned today the virus will “run rampant once again” if lockdown is lifted too soon.
He told Sky News: “It is too early to say now that we should remove the measures. People can see that whilst we may be reaching a peak, the numbers aren’t coming down yet.
“We will not be returning straight back to exactly how things were before. This will take time.”
At Wednesday’s briefing at Downing Street, Prof Whitty said Britain’s outbreak was “probably reaching the peak overall” and there are signs that it has “flattened out”.
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He said: “The more understanding we have of where that is, which will happen over the next 10 days, the more easy it is to judge how we can go into the next phase in a way that is properly evidence-based.'”
He added: “On the issue of the peak, our view is that it is probably reaching the peak overall and that is what the flattening shows.
“Sadly we do think that high numbers of deaths will continue, certainly for a short while on from where we are at the moment.
“So I think at the moment we are not yet at the point where we can say confidently and safely this is now past the peak and we can start thinking very much about the next phases.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is to chair a Cobra committee meeting to sign off on extending the nation’s lockdown until May 7.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth has said a three-week extension of lockdown measures would be “reasonable” but he then expects the measures to be “reviewed again.”
Italy and Spain have already started to remove some restrictions.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also started discussions about laying out a timetable for returning the country to normal.