Theatres, softplay centres and music venues are to be given the green lightto reopen from Saturday, Boris Johnson will announce, as he brings in new or bigger fines for illegal raves and a refusal to wear face masks in England.
People who repeatedly ignore the rules on face coverings in shops and on transport could be fined up to £3,200, and new powers will be introduced to penalise the organisers of mass gatherings including raves, the prime minister will announce.
The reopenings come despite concerns about persistently high daily infection numbers. Latest ONS data suggests new infections have exceeded 1,000 a day three times this week, and have not fallen back since Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, said the country had “probably reached near the limit or the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society”.
Speaking alongside the prime minister at a 31 July press conference, Whitty said: “What that means potentially is that if we wish to do more things in the future, we may have to do less of some other things.”
The press conference announced a pause on reopenings planned for 1 August, and prompted speculation that any further easing of restrictions could be halted altogether.
The prime minister will say on Friday: “Today, we are able to announce some further changes which will allow more people to return to work and the public to get back to more of the things they have missed.”
He stressed the stringent nature of the new penalties, including for organisers of illegal gatherings. “Most people in this country are following the rules and doing their bit to control the virus, but we must remain focused and we cannot be complacent. That is why we are strengthening the enforcement powers available to use against those who repeatedly flout the rules,” he said.
Under the plans there will also be trials of sports events with socially distanced spectators, which were abruptly postponed at short notice last month as infections rose. The first such event will be the final of the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre this weekend.
Beauty salons, tattoo studios, spas and barbers across England will be able to offer all close-contact services, including front-of-the-face treatments such as eyebrow threading, eyelash treatments and facials from 15 August.
In a signal that the government’s scientists continue to have concerns about the transmission risks of businesses that have already opened, new guidance will urge hairdressers to wear surgical grade face masks, as well as visors. “This will help protect the customer and staff from respiratory droplets caused by sneezing, coughing, or speaking,” the government’s statement said.
Skating rinks and bowling alleys can reopen. Indoor theatres and music and performance venues will be able to reopen with socially distanced audiences.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “The nation’s hard work to keep the virus under control means we can now make further careful progress on recovery with allowing audiences back for indoor performances, fans back at sports events and the reopening of more Covid-19-secure leisure businesses.”
After official figures showed the economy has crashed into the deepest recession in history, ministers have been keen to allow more sectors to reopen, amid fears of rocketing unemployment in the autumn when the job retention scheme is wound up.
Johnson designated key ministers the “save summer six” earlier this year as he pressed for sectors including tourism and retail to be reopened rapidly.
However, the latest easing plans were delayed at short notice last month amid fears that reopening pubs and other social venues had sparked a second wave of infections.
The latest easing plans were rubber-stamped at a “gold command” meeting on Thursday. Several areas are still awaiting news of whether stringent local lockdown rules will be extended for another week.
The £3,200 fine for failing to wear a face covering in places where it is mandatory, which include shops and public transport, is a doubling of the penalty.
Johnson and some of the government’s scientific advisers were initially reluctant to make masks mandatory – but have tightened restrictions amid hopes that they would help to make people feel more confident about returning to shops and other public places.
The home secretary, Priti Patel, said, “Coronavirus remains a real and present threat to all of us and the majority of the British public are doing the right thing. I will not stand by and see these sacrifices undermined by a small minority of senseless individuals.”
Nightclubs, sexual entertainment venues and hostess bars will remain among the few venues still forced to be shut by law.