Zoos and safari parks will be allowed to reopen from 15 June, Boris Johnson is to announce on Wednesday, amid fears that some would be bankrupted if the shutdown extended into the summer months.
With the government keen to relieve the tedium of the lockdown for cooped-up families without sparking a fresh increase in coronavirus cases, the prime minister will also say drive-in cinemas can open for business next week.
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.
“This is by necessity a careful process, but we hope the reopening of safari parks and zoos will help provide families with more options to spend time outdoors, while supporting the industry caring for these incredible animals.”
Zoos had been told as recently as last week that they should expect to remain closed indefinitely. But campaigners including the prime minister’s father had urged the government to “save our zoos”, amid warnings that some could be forced to close permanently if they continued to be unable to welcome visitors.
They will not be allowed to open indoor exhibits, such as reptile houses, and catering outlets will have to remain takeaway only, to comply with distancing guidelines.
MPs had been due to debate the future of zoos on Thursday. With National Trust gardens and other outdoor attractions already open, some had questioned why zoos had not been allowed to follow suit.
Edward Perry, the managing director of Knowsley Safari, said: “Reopening safaris and zoos on 15 June is very good news, but we feel it should have been sooner. Knowsley Safari has been ready for the past week to safely open to the public and we still can’t understand why it’s been OK for people to jump in their cars to go and get Big Macs but not to come and see our big cats.
“After being shut for such a long period, every day really does count in terms of ticket sales and generating much-needed revenue to care for over 700 animals.”
Scientific advice suggests transmission of the virus is much less likely outdoors, and gatherings of up to six people from different households are now allowed in the open air, provided they maintain a two-metre distance.