Pubs and restaurants could reopen as soon as April if they agree not to sell alcohol under options being discussed to allow the widespread relaxation of coronavirus restrictions after Easter.
The Telegraph can disclose that a temporary "booze ban" is being considered as part of the Government's roadmap for lifting lockdown, which will be unveiled on Feb 22.
It is understood the move is being discussed to allay concerns from Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and others about the effect of drinking on social distancing.
Under the three-stage plan for lifting restrictions, some outdoor socialising is expected to be allowed in March and schools are set to return.
It is hoped that hospitality can then reopen in April and that all of the most vulnerable will be vaccinated by May, in time for the local elections.
With almost 11 million people now vaccinated and deaths, hospitalisations and infections all falling, the Government is under increasing pressure to explain how and when the restrictions will start to be lifted.
Ministers are facing demands from Conservative MPs to find ways of opening the hospitality sector, which employs 3.2 million people, as soon as it is safe to do so.
But sources admitted alcohol was "the elephant in the room" after chaotic scenes when pubs reopened last summer following the first lockdown.
It comes as it emerged that companies with more than 50 employees are to be given lateral flow tests by the Government to help workers get back to the office once lockdown ends.
Separately, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, hinted that school days could be lengthened to enable pupils to catch up once classrooms reopen and said "real change and reform" was necessary.
Boris Johnson has insisted children in England must stay at home until at least March 8, but Wales has announced that it is following Scotland's example by allowing some primary classes to resume from Feb 22.
That has prompted fresh calls from some Tory MPs for England to follow suit, with children's sports expected to be a priority after schools reopen.
However, reopening pubs and restaurants is one of the most difficult problems for ministers to address, after police chiefs said last year it was "crystal clear" that drinkers do not adhere to social distancing rules.
During meetings of the Government's tourism and hospitality recovery groups, ministers have highlighted Scotland's indoor alcohol ban in October as a possible way forward.
Department for Health officials are understood to have cited concerns from Prof Whitty that people are less likely to abide by restrictions after drinking. Dry venues could open in April or May, sources suggested, though discussions are at an early stage.
The alternative to an alcohol ban would be to delay the reopening of pubs and restaurants until later in the year to allow for the widespread rollout of vaccines.
There are also discussions on removing the requirement for venues to serve a table meal following widespread confusion over the rule, as well as about whether two households should be allowed to mix.
A senior Government source said no decisions had been taken over whether an alcohol ban could be used to open pubs earlier but did not deny the discussions were taking place.
Another option would be to allow venues such as cafes to reopen earlier, having previously been caught up in blanket hospitality restrictions despite the main risk of transmission coming from pubs and restaurants.
"The discussion that is live now is how early do you go versus how tough are the restrictions," one insider said.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, said: "We welcome the opportunity to have sensible and pragmatic discussions with the Government about the pace and nature of reopening.
"It's important that any restrictions deliver the maximum health benefits for minimum economic harm. That's why we are pleased they are revisiting curfew and substantial table meals.
"But it's vital that the ongoing support takes into account the latest economic situation. It's important that support continues through recovery while companies struggle to break even."
Ministers had previously sought to minimise the risks associated with alcohol by introducing a curfew, but it proved counterproductive because people congregated on streets and public transport after the 10pm closing time.
It came as the first details of the blueprint for lifting lockdown began to emerge, with outdoor sports and socialising likely to be among the first activities permitted within weeks of schools returning in March.
Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, is said to be pushing "hard" for children's team and individual outdoors sports to resume first amid concern that the public health case for them is more pressing.
Government sources signalled that outdoor markets would come next and then high street shops, followed by pub gardens and later indoor hospitality venues.