Meeting in groups in pubs beer gardens is safer than meeting in private gardens, a professor of epidemiology has suggested.

Tim Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said reinstating the rule of six and allowing people to meet outdoors should be “definitely encouraged” around the same time as primary schools begin to return.

Asked about whether private gardens were safer than outdoor pubs or restaurants, he said that “actually sometimes a beer garden is more controlled than people’s homes and gardens”.

“Generally most establishments are well behaved and I think they clean the tables and people keep their distance and I see no reason why we couldn’t move towards that in places that are well set up for it,” he told Times Radio.

However he warned that restrictions on large gatherings could remain in place for “the next few years” as the world learns to live with the coronavirus.

He said he “can’t see us suddenly having another Cheltenham Festival with no regulations again”.

“I can’t see us having massive weddings with people coming from all over the world, I think for the next few years those days are gone,” he added.

Prof Spector also suggested that basic infection control measures - including physical distancing, face masks and handwashing - should remain in place as they “don’t cost really anything to do”.

“I think we need to get used to that and that will allow us to do the things we really want to do more easily and more readily,” he said.