Britain's coronavirus pandemic is continuing to shrink with cases falling by nearly a quarter ahead of lockdown being eased on Monday, according to official figures and estimates.
Department of Health bosses posted another 2,589 Covid cases today — down by 24.4 per cent on last week.
Another 40 victims were added to the official death toll, four times as many as last Saturday's figure, which was lower than normal because of delays in counting over the bank holiday. The overall number of deaths in the seven-day window remains the same as the previous seven days.
The slight increase in deaths over the past couple of days is likely to be a blip because day-to-day counts can fluctuate and infections have fallen consistently over the past four months.
And 557,014 more vaccines were dished out yesterday, taking Britain over the 32million mark for first doses — the number of people making up the entire top nine priority groups in the UK. More than 6.99million people have now had both jabs.
In England, a total of 32,737,372 Covid-19 vaccinations took place between December 8 and April 9, according to NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 466,480 on the previous day.
NHS England said 26,996,936 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 62,274 on the previous day, while 5,740,436 were a second dose, an increase of 404,206.
It comes as Britain prepares to move onto the next stage of lockdown easing on Monday, when pub beer gardens, hair salons and gyms will reopen.
Department of Health bosses posted another 2,589 Covid cases today — down by 24.4 per cent on last week. Another 40 victims were added to the official death toll, four times as many as last Saturday's figure, which was lower than normal because it was a bank holiday
557,014 more vaccines were dished out yesterday, taking Britain over the 32million mark for first doses — the number of people making up the entire top nine priority groups in the UK
In other coronavirus news:Another potentially dangerous blood condition has been spotted in a handful of patients given the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, the EU's drug watchdog has announced;Doctors have warned emergency departments are being swamped by patients who have had the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine and are suffering mild side effects; Close contacts of Covid cases could be released from self-isolation five days early, under a scheme being drawn up by Government scientists;Pressure is building on No10 to accelerate its roadmap out of lockdown in England after Wales announced Covid restrictions would be lifted ahead of schedule.
But customers may be forced to wear face masks when they return to pubs, it was revealed today.
Government guidance states that masks must only be worn indoors and has not stipulated that pub goers must wear face masks when they are outside.
Yet according to the Daily Telegraph, pub landlords are being given contradictory instructions by councils who are insisting masks must be worn by customers unless they are eating or drinking.
The newspaper reports that councils have set up enforcement teams to patrol pubs for rule-breakers and that some publicans fear they may be fined.
A notice from Ribble Valley Borough Council, in Lancashire, said: 'Face coverings must be worn by customers, except when seated to eat or drink.'
When questioned as to whether a mistake had been made by one landlady, the council reportedly insisted masks must be worn in beer gardens unless eating or drinking.
Both industry bodies UK Hospitality and the British Beer and Pub Association said they were aware of 'inconsistencies' in some guidance being given to pub owners.
Staff pose outside Urban Outfitters in central London today as shops get ready to reopen for the first time this year on Monday
A worker brings a table into a Jollibee restaurant in London today as the hospitality industry prepares to reopens for the first this year on Monday
A man prepares the mannequins in an H&M shop window in central London today as shops prepare to reopen on Monday
The government has said that customers do not have to wear masks when in beer gardens. Pictured: A member of staff in personal protective equipment after pubs reopened last July
UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nichols told the Telegraph: 'We need local enforcement bodies to be working to support businesses to reopen rather than to be putting barriers in the way or creating confusion.'
Meanwhile, Emma McClarkin, CEO of the BBPA, added: 'We're aware of inconsistencies among councils and local authorities and we would ask to come to this in the spirit of trying to assist pubs opening safely rather than trying to look for errors or reasons to stymie their reopening.'
It comes as millions of Britons are expected to spend more than £300million next week when pub beer gardens and restaurant terraces open from Monday.
The figures will provide cheer for a sector that has been ravaged by a year of lockdowns forced thousands of venues to close.
But the outpouring of spending is still less than the average £663million per week on eating and drinking out, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).
Friends from Bromley enjoy pints Camden Town Brewerys pop-up beer garden last summer
Three-fifths of the nation’s 40,000 boozers will stay shut on Monday because they do not have enough outdoor space to open, and most of those that do open will be loss-making, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said.
The rest of the sector must wait until May 17, the earliest day indoor hospitality will be allowed to open.
A quarter of adults said plan to visit a pub within the first week of restrictions being lifted and a tenth said they will head down on Monday, according to a money.co.uk survey.
The hospitality industry has spent in excess of £1billion on social distancing measures, such as Perspex screens, and outdoor kit including tents and heaters.
The key Easter bank holiday has already passed, starving pubs of £325million of beer sales over the four-day weekend alone.
Customers eat Sunday lunches at tables outside restaurants in Soho, in London in September
Landlords are now praying for a warm, dry spring to encourage drinkers outside. The weather on Monday is forecast to be sunny with highs of 8C in the south and 11C in the north.
Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the BBPA, said: ‘That first pint back in the beer garden is going to be a special moment. People across the country have been looking forward to it for months.
‘With so many pubs still not opening though, it’s crucial the Government sticks to its roadmap.’ The CEBR said: ‘There is a palpable sense of excitement surrounding hospitality reopening.
‘With more than half of the population at least partially vaccinated, optimism at record highs and a good amount of pent-up demand, there are many reasons to believe that demand for restaurants and pubs will rebound even stronger than after the previous two reopenings.’
This week the UK’s large pub groups announced their reopening plans, revealing the large number that will remain shut.
Marston’s, which owns Pitcher and Piano brand, will reopen 700 of its 1,000 managed pubs, while Mitchell & Butlers will open 300 pubs, out of 1,600 - less than a fifth of its estate.
A pub prepares to open its garden after months of COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown in London
Greene King will reopen 992 pubs and Wetherspoon will open 394 of its pubs - in each case less than half of the total.
The prolonged closure for many pubs came as the rate of pub closure accelerated, with 42 shutting their doors every day in 2021, up from 30-a-day last year.
Close to 12,000 licenced premises have already shut their doors permanently between December 2019 and February 2021.
When pubs and restaurants reopened in the summer, around two-thirds of people returned to eating out within a month, with young people most likely to risk the trip.
It took until September for the number of consumers dining out to reach 95 per cent of pre-pandemic levels after the July restart, Kantar said.
The figures suggested it could take many months for hospitality to recover, but many experts have predicted a strong summer as families lavish lockdown savings on eating out.
Older customers who have had the vaccine are also expected to be much more confident this time round.
Lucy Chapman, a director at Kantar, said: ‘We are on track for a roaring summer. Older people will be enjoying greater freedom thanks to vaccinations and we’ll all be making the most of warmer temperatures.’