CHESTER ZOO will reopen its gates from next Monday following a dramatic Government U-turn.

Following huge public pressure, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to announce on Wednesday, June 15, that all zoos will be allowed to reopen as part of the latest easing of the coronavirus lockdown.

In addition, all safari parks and drive-in cinemas will be allowed to reopen, meaning attractions such as Knowsley Safari Park can reopen, but the Blue Planet Aquarium in Cheshire Oaks will still be forced to keep its doors closed.

Many zoos, including Chester Zoo, had warned the Government they were facing the real prospect of closing for good if they were unable to reopen soon.

Government rules on the coronavirus legislation had changed on June 1 so zoos and aquariums were specifically prevented from being allowed to reopen.

The next time the legislation was due to be reviewed was not until the end of this month, which had meant the animal attractions would not be able to reopen until July 4 at the very earliest.

With every day the zoos remained closed, that put them at further threat of running out of money. Chester Zoo revealed it was losing £1 million a month and faced the prospect of being £24 million in debt at the end of the year.

But following a huge outcry, which saw numerous petitions set up obtaining thousands of signatures, and local MPs and councillors writing to the Government calling for the rules to be urgently reviewed so Chester Zoo could reopen, the Government has done a U-turn.

The U-turn has been hugely welcomed by Chester Zoo's chief operating officer Jamie Christon, who has confirmed the zoo will reopen on Monday, June 15.

He said: "A week ago we were in despair, not knowing when we would reopen, or if we could even survive if our gates had to remain closed for much longer.

“But the unwavering support of the public, our members, those MPs who listened to us and backed our corner, and our global community has completely humbled us.

"It’s wonderful that, together, we have been heard. We’ll be forever grateful to those who lent us their voice in our moment of need. To them we say thank you, from the very bottom of our hearts.

"We are also incredibly thankful to the Government for taking this step, for us, and for conservation of threatened species.

“This isn’t over just yet though. There’s no denying that the zoo has suffered severe financial damage over the past three months and the road to recovery will be long and uncertain.

“However, we now start the process of rebuilding this great charity zoo, as we prepare to safely welcome back visitors through our gates – albeit in much, much fewer numbers – from Monday, June 15.

"We are in no doubt that this is why now, we have hope that we will survive.”

Mr Johnson will say at Wednesday's Downing Street press conference zoos can reopen next week, as long as they can uphold social distancing rules.

He will also announce the easing of restrictions on outdoor attractions where people remain in their cars, such as safari parks and drive-in cinemas, because the risk of spreading the disease is lower outside.

The move will pave the way for zoos to reopen in England alongside non-essential shops.

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."

The PM's father, Stanley Johnson, had earlier joined calls for zoos to "reopen as soon as possible" after they were ordered to close when the lockdown was imposed on March 23.

Though the easing will be a relief, zoos will be told that they must not reopen indoor exhibitions, such as reptile houses, and must ensure amenities including cafes are take-away only.

That will not be an issue for Chester Zoo, which had already accounted for that when implementing a comprehensive set of social distancing measures at the attraction so visitors could enjoy a safe day out.

During the Save Our Zoo crisis, nearly £2.4 million has been raised on Chester Zoo's Justgiving page since it was launched last Wednesday.

The funds are still much needed and will be gratefully received by the zoo, which will have to operate on a significantly reduced capacity over the coming months.

At its peak, Chester Zoo welcomes 20,000 visitors a day. In normal times, the zoo records more than two million visitors flocking through its gates over the course of a year.

But when the zoo does reopen, it will operate on a capacity of just 3,000, with tickets only available by booking in advance.

Andrew Hall, spokesperson for Biaza - British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums, said: "Biaza is obviously delighted that zoos and safari parks have been given the flexibility to reopen.

"But as a sector, we are not out of the woods. Aquariums are still closed, and zoos and safari parks have taken a real hit. For some zoos, particularly those reliant on tourism, reopening isn't going to be financially viable for them.

"It's helpful today but it's not the full answer to the challenges we face.

"We know that as a sector, zoos, aquariums and safari parks will be struggling, especially with limited entry, so we do still need the support of Government - but we're very pleased about today's announcement."

He added: "Zoos and aquariums in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will still be facing significant challenges and we will be working hard to achieve positive outcomes in these nations."

Chester Zoo, which celebrates its 89th birthday on Wednesday, June 10, has been running its Save Our Zoo appeal. People can still donate here