Football fans could be allowed to pack into stadiums in “significant numbers” this summer with the help of COVID certificates, the culture secretary has told Sky News.

Oliver Dowden set out the government’s aim to “get as many people back as we possibly can and get back to the things we really love as a nation” as lockdown restrictions are eased.

London’s Wembley stadium is due to host seven matches at this year’s European championship – including all three of England’s group games – with ministers planning to allow football fans into the ground in their thousands.

Four of the games due to be played at Wembley are scheduled to take place after 21 June, the date from which the government hopes all legal limits on social contact can be removed.

Mr Dowden said ministers were “working very hard to deliver” the government’s lockdown easing roadmap – an initial stage of which will allow people to attend socially distanced sports events and theatre performances indoors and outdoors from 17 May.

The culture secretary outlined 21 June as “the big step forward” when “we want to get as much back as we possibly can”.

He said pilot events at this year’s FA Cup final and the world snooker championships at Sheffield’s Crucible would allow the government to work on “the safest way to do that”.

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Describing COVID certificates as a “potential tool” in the return of large events, Mr Dowden said: “From 21 June… we hope to get people back in significant numbers.

“We’re piloting the different things that will enable that to happen. Clearly it will have to be done in COVID-secure way.

“So you would expect – and we will be testing these – things like one-way systems, things like masks, things like hand hygiene and everything else.

“As part of that, another thing we are considering is a COVID certification.

“And we will be testing whether we can use COVID certification to help facilitate the return of sports.”

Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is leading a review of how COVID certificates might work.

But Mr Dowden denied the proposal would constitute a “vaccine passport” to show who had had their COVID jab and who hadn’t.

“We’ve been clear there won’t be a vaccine passport, the prime minister has made that very clear,” he said.

“What we have said, though, is that in order to prove, for example, that you’ve had a vaccine or that you’ve had a successful negative test, we’re looking at ways to help facilitate proving that.

“That may be one of the things that could help ensure we can get more people back into stadiums.”

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Asked if there would still be social distancing at events this summer, Mr Dowden suggested the current two-metre rule – or the “one metre plus” rule – could be scrapped.

“I hope we will be able to find ways of mitigating against, certainly, having the sort of social distancing we have at the moment,” he said.

“The sort of social distancing we have at the moment makes it very, very difficult, for example, for theatre productions to be run profitably.

“It makes it very, very difficult for our football clubs to run profitably, if you have to have those large distances between people.”

He stressed the government was “trying to get the conditions right” so that this summer will be a “permanent reopening” for the events industry, although he admitted ministers “can’t foresee every last eventuality” in how the pandemic might develop.