London restaurants could be braced for severe restrictions on trading when they’re allowed to reopen following lockdown, which is scheduled to end on Thursday 3 December.
Government ministers are yet to decide on the scale and distribution of restrictions for the rest of 2020 and the start of 2021, and London restaurants had expected — since they’d been given no information to the contrary — that they would be placed back into tier two coronavirus restrictions. These restrictions limit inside-restaurant visits to those from one household or support bubble, with outdoor dining permitted in adherence to the “rule of six.”
But fresh uncertainty arrived this morning, 17 November, after housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick told various news outlets that the government is seeking “greater consistency” when it reintroduces the regional tier system next month. He added that a decision would be made in the “next week or so,” while also assessing to what extent lockdown 2.0, introduced nearly a fortnight ago, had impacted transmission. Because of the time it takes to register an infection as a statistic — and the up-to 14-day incubation period of the virus — it is too early to tell what impact measures introduced nationally have yet had. “We won’t know that with any certainty until the last week of November,” Jenrick said.
For restaurants, who are waiting to hear how and when they can reopen before Christmas, that it is precious little time to plan. What’s more, there is still no word on whether the government will bring back the widely criticised 10 p.m. curfew, introduced before the tier system came into force.
Any reconsideration of the rules follows regional protestations against the government after more punitive restrictions were applied on local communities where transmission of COVID-19 was higher in the late summer and autumn without financial support commensurate to those restrictions. A high-profile standoff between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Manchester mayor Andy Burnham preceded the reintroduction of national lockdown in England at the end of October. During that period it was argued by those placed under restrictions first that greater financial support was forthcoming only once London entered tier two restrictions in mid-October.
Jenrick observed that the implementation of restrictions had “varied quite a bit in different parts of the country” and that so too had their effectiveness. “I think in the new tiers we would like greater consistency, and we will have to look at the evidence to see which of those measures [were] actually the most impactful on the virus,” he said.
Greater consistency and effectiveness of the tier system has high on the agenda for the government’s scientific advisory group (Sage). Public Health England’s Susan Hopkins said yesterday that tier two, under which London was place pre-lockdown, “holds in some areas and not in others”, depending on “how well individuals are taking that advice in.” By contrast, tier one measures, which includes the “rule of six” and general distancing recommendations had “very little effect” on the spread of the virus, according to BBC News.
As restaurants approach the midpoint of lockdown 2.0, they’re faced with no less uncertainty but lots of unanswered questions.