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Government Could Allow Some Restaurants to Open by 1 July

Boris Johnson was not clear about which hospitality businesses would be eligible

The UK’s VE Day 75 Celebrations Take Place Amid Coronavirus Lockdown Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images

Boris Johnson’s coronavirus briefing tonight, Sunday 10 May, gave restaurants, pubs, and bars a date to watch: 1 July. Johnson said that “some of the hospitality industry” might be able to reopen by then, but offered no guidance on which parameters the “some” would come under. The prime minister also made it clear that the reopening would be contingent on five key factors: NHS capacity; falling daily deaths; rate of infection below 1; sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE); no risk of overwhelming the NHS with a second spike. Restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars have been shut since 20 March. Today, Monday 11 March, the date moved: advice now says that restaurants will not be opening until 4 July, at the earliest.

The 1 July date coincides with the end of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme, which has up to now offered thousands of restaurants a lifeline by supporting staff wages — if a limited one, as it does not cover service charges and tips distributed by troncs. The announcement confirmed the restaurant industry’s “hardest hit, last to reopen” message, with shops and schools slated to reopen first, by 1 June, and the 1 July date being “at the earliest.” Some restaurants have previously warned the government not to end the lockdown too soon.

Trade body U.K. Hospitality saw the initial plan as a validation for its pressuring the government to confirm significant, sustained support for the restaurant industry. Chief executive Kate Nicholls said this morning: “We have been calling for a more flexible, extended furlough system and today’s statement appears to leave the door open for that. UKHospitality has already been working up protocols for implementation in different parts of the sector, to allow venues to confidently open their doors when it is safe to do so.”

While a date to watch offers a timeframe in which to make preparations for a possible reopening, and what that reopening might look like, it does not mitigate the fears the industry still has over the need for sustained government intervention, including rent relief, if it is to survive long term. With further details expected tomorrow, there may be more for restaurants to act on coming — including guidance on whether those with outdoor space could be the first to reopen. This would not just aid restaurants, bars, and cafes, but also pubs, which are likely to be closed longer than their compatriots.

More soon.