Hospitality industry leaders have hit back at the Government’s plan to impose a 10pm curfew, calling it another ‘crushing blow’ for a sector which is ‘already on its knees’.
Boris Johnson is expected to announce the curfew, which will apply to all pubs, bars and restaurants in England, when he addresses the nation on Tuesday night.
As part of a package of new measures to slow surging rates of the virus across the country, customers will also be banned from ordering from the bar.
More than 175 publicans signed an open letter to the prime minister on Monday saying they were ‘dismayed’ at the curfew and warned it will be disastrous for the sector at a time when many pubs are hanging on by a thread.
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The letter read: ‘Already many publicans are facing serious anxiety about the situation and current levels of trade. Be in no doubt, many pubs are already on the edge and could not survive any further restrictions to trade.’
The measures come amid fears the UK could see 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by the middle of October without urgent action. Ministers and top scientists are pushing for a two-week ‘circuit-breaker lockdown’ but the PM is said to be against this and would prefer to try softer measures first.
Wetherspoon’s boss, Tim Martin, has been vocal about the potential curfew for some time, warning pubs will be wiped out by further restrictions which he described as ‘nuts’. He insisted that pubs were safer than most people’s homes.
‘If Boris and his discredited advisers try to impose a lockdown, in my opinion, they’re toast,’ he said.
Chief executive of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls, said a hard close time is ‘bad for business and bad for controlling the virus’, as she warned the curfew will make it too difficult to get customers out in time while sticking to social distancing.
She added: ‘These restrictions will come as another crushing blow for many hospitality businesses struggling to recover so it’s crucial these new rules are applied with flexibility.’
‘It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when Government data shows that just 5% of infections out of the home are related to hospitality,’ she added.
‘Where such restrictions have been put in place locally they have not cut infection rates, merely damaged business and cost jobs.’
Ms Nicholls called for a support package which would see VAT cut until the end of 2021, for the business rates holiday to be extended, and an enhanced employment support package specifically for hospitality.
‘We agree with the Government that we are all in this together. Hospitality has played its part by investing in Covid-secure venues and reassuring their customers,’ she said.
‘Now, it’s time for Government to demonstrate its commitment to the sector and its recovery – hundreds of thousands of livelihoods depend upon it.’
The Institute of Economic Affairs think tank also criticised the plans and said the curfew appeared to have ’emerged from a random policy generator.’
Christopher Snowdon, the IEA’s head of lifestyle economics, said: ‘While mandatory table service has been part of the successful Swedish approach and may have merit, the new closing time will be devastating to a hospitality sector that was already suffering after the first lockdown.
‘The Government should publish the evidence upon which this decision was based.’
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