England’s bars and restaurants cheer absence of new Covid measures

UK Bars open ion New Years Eve

Hospitality bosses have welcomed news that the government has ruled out additional Covid restrictions in England before the busy New Year’s Eve trading period.

Businesses had been calling for certainty, with bars and restaurants saying they had been left in limbo at a time of potentially lucrative bookings – or costly cancellations.

The industry had feared that Boris Johnson and ministers would toughen up Covid-19 measures in England, after the Omicron variant led to a surge in Covid infections.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have already imposed tougher Covid rules on physical distancing and the number of people who can meet, including the closure of nightclubs.

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, the industry body, said the confirmation by Sajid Javid, the health secretary, that no further clampdown would come in England until early 2022 was welcome news for businesses.

She said the government had taken a “pragmatic and proportionate approach” which would “give a real lifeline for many who have struggled with the loss of trade in the run up to Christmas”.

She added: “Losing new year on top of December would have been devastating, and keeping restrictions to a minimum helps protects businesses and jobs.”

The possible restrictions that ministers were reportedly considering, including advice to households not to mix indoors, would have been a lockdown in all but name, she said “with trade pushed to unsustainable levels”.

Martin Wolstencroft, the CEO of ARC Inspirations, which runs 18 bars in the north of England, said that having no further restrictions would be “fantastic for the industry”.

Speaking before the prime minister confirmed that there would be no changes, he said certainty was needed for “our managers and staff, our customers – who want to know if they can meet up with loved ones – and the full supply chain”.

He had planned on the basis that his bars would be open, and had already placed orders, as he said it was not possible to leave everything to the last minute.

“This is a very, very profitable time for everyone – it’s when we make the money that gets us through January,” he said.

Michael Kill, the chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (Nita), which represents bars, pubs, nightclubs, restaurants and entertainment venues, said that the decision had come after “an extremely anxious few weeks for our sector”, but he was pleased that the PM had listened.

He said: “Our industry can now start to plan with some certainty over the next week, and make up for lost time promoting one of the key nights of the year in the coming days.

“It is important that given this opportunity that we continue to recognise our responsibility to the public health strategy, and urge our customers to not only support us during this period but play their part in ensuring that this is the start of our recovery.”

On Twitter, Nita called the announcement “amazing news”, saying: “New Years is on!!”

Kill said a longer-term strategy was needed, adding: “It is clear that the open, close strategy, which has had a huge impact on our industry, is not sustainable.”

Others echoed the call for more clarity. Speaking ahead of Javid’s comments, Paul Askew, the chef patron of the Art School restaurant in Liverpool, said his business was being “eroded” by announcements that had caused anxiety and the cancellation of big group bookings.

“This dithering in the middle ground may serve political convenience but not business recovery and confidence,” he said.

“The government has to give a clear statement to consumers that it’s safe to go out, or if it isn’t then enact a circuit breaker and compensate all of the businesses affected.”

Mark Davyd, CEO of Music Venue Trust, said Johnson needed to provide “a lot more clarity on what his government will be doing in the near future, and in the longer term … there is an urgent need to support public spaces to improve ventilation and air quality, with structured and intelligent public investment.”

A £1bn emergency package, consisting of business grants and help with sick pay, which was announced last week by Rishi Sunak, drew an angry response from hospitality bosses, who said it was not nearly enough after a collapse in pre-Christmas trade.

Nicholls reaffirmed the warning on Monday, adding: “Without further rate relief and a lower rate of VAT to sustain employment, businesses will fail and jobs will be lost.”