STRUGGLING businesses are hoping a clear path to reopening is set out today so they can look forward to welcome back customers.

Weymouth restaurant owners, publicans, shop owners, leisure attraction owners and business leaders are eagerly awaiting news of when they will be able to reopen after nearly a year of closures, disruption and a huge loss of income.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is scheduled to set out a 'road map' for easing out of coronavirus restrictions later today which will unlock the country.

He will use a speech to Parliament to detail the "cautious" approach - the map will contain four tests for easing measures, with the Government set to examine the data at each stage before unlocking further.

The first relaxation is set to take place on March 8 - when schools are widely expected to return. Safely reuniting loved ones will be another priority.

There is also expected to be a reopening date for non-essential retail. After the first lockdown, non-essential retail was permitted to open two weeks before the hospitality industry.

Craig Oakes, president of Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce, said: "I am really hoping that the Prime Minister will present a plan which will give us a clear path to us all being able to live our lives more normally and I am optimistic that things will get better following today's announcement.

"With us being a tourist town, it is important for us to know if and when we can reopen our shops as well as our hospitality venues so that we can get visitors down and get our economy back on track."

The last thing expected to be given the green light to reopen is the hospitality industry.

The Campaign for Pubs, a national campaign group representing pubs, publicans and pub-goers, has written to the Prime Minister urging him to provide a clear roadmap for reopening amid a mental health crisis facing the nation's publicans.

The letter highlights the struggles faced by pub-owners who have been left financially vulnerable as a result of the pandemic without grants to cover their outgoing bills while they have been forced to remain closed.

Some were able to reopen when Dorset was in Tier 2 level coronavirus restrictions in December, as long as customers ordered a 'substantial meal' alongside an alcoholic drink, but wet-only pubs have been closed since the beginning of November.

Sarah Bodnick, landlady at The Red Lion in Weymouth, is desperate to get the doors open again.

She said: "I've got my fingers crossed that Boris Johnson is going to announce we can reopen by the end of April, however, there is no point reopening with a load of restrictions in place like last time - I would rather wait until we can open properly.

"It has been tough not seeing my customers and I really want to get back to work. I feel like a caged tiger in this lockdown."

Dorset restaurants faced similar difficulties last year when they were allowed to reopen fully after the first lockdown, then only able to cater for groups of six or less. They closed during the second lockdown and reopened in December, but only to groups of up to six who all had to be from the same household. They closed again when Dorset moved into Tier 4 level restrictions on New Year's Eve.

The lack of stability has frustrated Eric Tavernier, owner of Les Enfants Terribles on Weymouth quay.

He said: "We need to reopen soon. We cannot keep closing the door and not making any money.

"We managed to get some business in when we reopened in the summer last year but we kept reopening and closing our doors which meant money disappeared.

"I really hope that we will be able to open by May. Money is tight and we will not survive a fourth lockdown."

Popular tourist attraction Weymouth Sea Life has called on the government to permit them to reopen at the same time as non-essential retail and not force them to remain closed until the hospitality industry is able to open its doors.

Phil Say, general manager of Weymouth Pavilion, does not expect he will be able to reopen the theatre any time soon.

He said: "I suspect we will be near the back of the queue rather than at the front and I think that is the right thing. It would be sensible for schools to open first.

"We are just waiting to see what happens."

Similarly, Mesha Moinirad, personal instructor at First Class Fitness in Weymouth, does not expect gyms to be told they can reopen soon.

He said: "We have got to think about people's welfare so we shouldn't open sooner than is sensible.

"I have had a massive change to my amount of income over the last year with the restrictions, as is the same for so many industries. However, we need to do what we can to save lives."