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Social Distancing Until End of Year ‘Catastrophic’ for Restaurants

Government’s chief medical officer says it is realistic to expect restrictions until December 2020

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Means of social distancing are likely to remain in place until the end of this year, the government’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty confirmed last night in the daily press briefing at 10 Downing Street. Such measures do not come as a surprise for an increasing majority in the restaurant industry, but confirmation from one of the leading member’s of the government’s COVID-19 response team is significant. Trade body UK Hospitality said social distancing measures of any kind in place for such an extended period of time would be “catastrophic” for pubs, restaurants, and the wider leisure sector in the U.K.

Whitty stressed the importance of being realistic — that the U.K.’s emergence from full lockdown would not signal the end of “highly disruptive” social distancing measures. Noting that full relaxation of the only known reliable means of preventing the spread of the coronavirus until a “highly effective vaccine” was available, he added that the U.K. should expect those measures to be in place for “a long period of time”. It is widely believed that two years is at the moment the realistic best case scenario for the development, testing, and distribution of an effective vaccine.

Whitty is the U.K.’s most senior medic, but is an advisor to the government; ultimately the decision to bring the country out of lockdown, maintain and relax social distancing measures, and reopen the economy will fall to ministers. No decision on whether full lockdown will be suspended or extended will be made until 7 May, but Whitty said last night that “If people are hoping it’s suddenly going to move from where we are in lockdown to where suddenly into everything is gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation.”

In what has been another difficult week for the restaurant industry, on Sunday, senior cabinet minister Michael Gove indicated a phased approach to the relaxation of lockdown, and said that restaurants, pubs, and areas of hospitality would be among the “last to exit” and reopen for business.

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, who earlier this week outlined a comprehensive set of proposals to the government’s Treasury Select Committee, warned that unless a full review of the relief measures resulted in more effective and far-reaching support, the hospitality sector would face a “bloodbath.”

More soon.