The reason why zoos can’t open yet in the UK

Fresh concerns have been raised over when zoos will reopen across the UK.

As lockdown restrictions continue to gradually ease in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, people are enjoying being able to meet with friends and family outdoors.

Nursery and some school classes have started back, and non-essential shops are set to open in the middle of the month.

But what about outdoor attractions, such as zoos?

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Here’s what you need to know about when they might open.

When will zoos open?

Although some lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease, there’s no official date for when zoos will reopen in England.

The UK’s biggest zoo – Chester Zoo – has been told to prepare to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

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A statement from the zoo read: “Zoo bosses say they have been told by government representatives to prepare for their gates to remain closed 'indefinitely', despite being 'Covid secure' and able to safely limit numbers and enforce social distancing rules – something that public UK beaches, parks and other beauty spots cannot do.”

The zoo revealed that the coronavirus pandemic has already cost the wildlife charity a huge £5m.

Visitor revenue makes up 97 percent of the zoo’s income so the closure has had a huge impact on business.

The zoo’s 35,000 animals cost £465,000 a month to care for.

Additional outgoings for utilities, insurance and more on top of this means that it needs £1.6m a month in order to keep going.

Why are zoos not on the list of outdoor ticketed venues?

The government updated its advice on ticketed garden venues on May 23, confirming that people in England can now visit gardens and land maintained for public use.

For example, some National Trust gardens and parks will be open to visitors with pre-purchased tickets only from June 3.

Zoos are currently not on the list of outdoor ticked venues that can reopen.

However, a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesman added that work "to understand how and when" they may be able to open was "ongoing".

Jamie Christon, Chester Zoo's chief operating officer, said that not being included on the list, "flicked a switch for us and, heartbreakingly, our lights are now flickering".

"Not being able to open, with such massive outgoings, puts the future of the zoo itself at risk of extinction,” Mr Christon adds.

London Zoo has also warned it may be forced to close permanently. Although it has furloughed its 280 staff and reduced the salaries of other staff, it still costs £2.3m a month to feed and care for all its animals.

Asked about zoos in the daily government briefing on Friday, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “I very much hope that we can get zoos reopened in a safe and Covid-secure way, but of course it has got to be done in way that doesn’t allow the R [the virus reproduction rate] to go above 1.”

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We understand the challenges faced by zoos and aquariums but it’s vital that we do not move too quickly in reopening to ensure public health is protected.”

Have zoos reopened in Europe?

Zoos were among the first tourist attractions to reopen in many countries, including Denmark and Germany, when their lockdown restrictions began to ease.

Now they are reopening in France, Italy, the Czech Republic and some Spanish regions too.

In Belgium, the Park Pairi Daiza is opening its doors to a maximum of 5,000 visitors instead of its usual 30,000. Visitors will wear masks and they will socially distance, following carefully marked one-way pedestrian walkways.

Zoo spokesman, from the Park Pairi Daiza Mathieu Godefroy, told the BBC: "Life goes on inside a zoo and it costs a lot of money if there are no visitors to pay for it.

"During confinement, we estimate we lost €100,000 (£90,000; $110,000) every day, for the whole year of 2020 we hope to limit our loss to €30m."