The U.K. government has issued new guidance on COVID-19 which includes stringent social distancing and a recommendation to “avoid confined spaces such as pubs and restaurants.” As the novel coronavirus causes London restaurants to close their doors and pivot to delivery in the absence of formal guidance from the government over the virus’ impact on the hospitality industry, these recommendations at the very least offer the public some further structured advice.
When pressed on whether the government was closing restaurants and bars down, Prime minister Boris Johnson said that it was not doing so as yet. The advice on avoiding public places joins new, stronger self-isolation recommendations: anyone who lives with someone who has a cough or a temperature should stay at home for 14 days. Saying that London is “a few weeks ahead” of other places in the U.K. regarding transmission, he described the new, non-legally mandated measures as “draconian,” but necessary to “flatten the curve” — reducing the number of patients requiring treatment at a given time and thus easing pressure on the NHS.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., Italy, Spain, Germany, and across the globe, cities like New York and Los Angeles are imposing mandatory restaurant closures and curfews and banning gatherings of more than 50 people. The U.K. government, at this time, is only making behavioural recommendations. Johnson responded to a question about this disparity in response by emphasising “timeliness”: saying that “more extreme measures like curfews” remained “under review.” This decision also means that the government is not yet responsible for covering businesses’ lost revenue in the event of a mandated shutdown. Restaurants and bars are extremely unlikely to be able to claim insurance and other financial relief if they close voluntarily or proactively. COVID-19 only recently made many insurers’ lists of “notifiable” diseases against which claims are possible; some insurers have already said that, despite this change, they will only cover diseases specifically named in contract terms.
In the face of this lack of clarity, London restaurants and bars are taking the initiative to close restaurants, with others staying open with reduced capacity or pivoting entirely to restaurant delivery.
While the government has promised a £12 billion novel coronavirus relief package to ease pressure on the economy, London restaurants expect its parameters to leave them scant relief, with countless central London establishments not qualifying. With tens of closures and changes announced today, expect the situation to remain fluid, as the city’s restaurateurs navigate an ever-changing situation that the nation’s government is yet to fully make a call on.