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Government Rows Back on Restaurants Reopening in Two Weeks

Business secretary Alok Sharma deflates government optimism

Sushi Tetsu in Clerkenwell
Michaël Protin/Eater London

Plans to allow some restaurants to reopen in June lasted two days, as business secretary Alok Sharma rowed back on government optimism last night. On Monday, a group of ministers including chancellor Rishi Sunak proposed a 22 June reopening for an as yet undefined group of restaurants. On Tuesday, at the daily briefing, Sharma confirmed that 4 July remains the earliest date that some restaurants will be able to reopen.

On the same day, draft restaurant reopening guidelines that leave social distancing measurements and capacity regulation entirely in the hands of restaurateurs emerged, coloured by both Boris Johnson’s repeated endorsement of reducing social distancing. Ministers and medical advisers have repeatedly cautioned against that endorsement; Sharma yesterday said: “We take advice from Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and, when it is safe to do so, we will see if we can move to a smaller distance. We keep all these things under review.”

The new, now old date had raised more questions that it answered, with the proposed acceleration appearing to be both a damage limitation policy for the economy and a damage limitation policy for the government itself. Now that it has been scrapped, restaurants again have the relative certainty of a single date to focus on — even if its parameters remain entirely vague.