Pubs and restaurants in England could re-open earlier than planned after warnings of huge job losses.
Firms are preparing to start serving customers outdoors from 4 July, but 22 June is now reportedly being considered by ministers in a “save summer” move.
The Cabinet may discuss the issue on Tuesday but the industry is cautious about the benefit for jobs and trade.
Pub chain Wetherspoons said it would be a “psychological boost” and trade body UK Hospitality said more was needed.
The Financial Times reported that a possible easing of social distancing rules for the sector would also be on the agenda for the Cabinet.
UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls told the BBC that reducing social separation from two metres to one metre would be far more important for the industry survival.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma has warned Prime Minister Boris Johnson that 3.5 million jobs are at risk in the hospitality sector because of the coronavirus lockdown, according to the Sunday Times.
A group of ministers, dubbed the “save summer six” and including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, are said to be keen to get the hospitality sector’s key summer season underway earlier than planned.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes would be able to serve customers in gardens, terraces, marquees, and similar outdoors areas.
But it comes amid growing concern about whether the government is easing the lockdown too early, risking a resurgence of infections.
Tim Martin, founder and chairman of Wetherspoon, said: “Few pubs will be able to make a profit using outdoor space only.”
However, he said it would be a “psychological boost to a beleaguered industry”, adding: “It will signal the intent of the government to make progress towards normality.”
Ms Nicholls also said that re-opening sooner would be welcome, but she questioned if two weeks would make much difference to a sector that has been in deep freeze for weeks.
“The significance is that it does at least give us momentum – allowing businesses to plan and customers to book. July 4 had always only been an aspirational date to start re-opening,” she said.
“This gives some certainty about direction of travel. Some businesses have not opened since last November, because they are seasonal. It is important to start as soon as they can.”
But re-opening could not be done overnight, she said. Businesses had to re-stock and bring back staff from furlough, for example. “It takes time, so the fact that there are talks about a specific date is helpful.”
However, more helpful would be a relaxation of the two-metre separation rule, something pubs and restaurants say could be impossible to police.
According to the Financial Times, ministers have spoken to counterparts in Denmark about the success of that country’s one-metre rules.
UK Hospitality has estimated that, with a two-metre rule, outlets would be able to make about 30% of normal revenues, whereas one-metre would mean about 60-75%.
Ms Nicholls pointed out that for many outlets, especially those in cities, the only outdoor spaces were pavements.
And she emphasised that just being able to serve customers outdoors would not be enough to save the sector from closures and job losses. Without tourists or the usual supply of customers from offices and shops, many pubs and restaurants would not survive, she said.