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With 10 Days Until Restaurants Can Reopen, Many Still Have Crucial Questions to Answer

Being permitted to open in principle is not the same as being able to do so safely or responsibly

Social distancing signage on London restaurant Pavilion Michaël Protin

This lunchtime, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that restaurants in England can reopen for dine-in customers from Saturday 4 July. It comes as the government has relaxed the two-metre social distancing rule to one, with added guidance on how to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 expected to be published later today.

Here’s what that means for businesses that are permitted in principle to reopen in 10 days after over three months of closure — with the reaction from the head of the U.K. hospitality industry’s trade body.


Reopening:

“Having confirmation of the reopening date is a real boon and affords businesses some time to make the necessary preparations,” chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, Kate Nicholls said.

  • Some restaurants will wonder whether 10 days is enough time to make the necessary preparations. Many have been preparing in anticipation of this announcement, while others are expected not to rush to reopen on 4 July.
  • The government’s furlough scheme does not require business owners to begin contributing to staff wages until August.
  • Last week, the government extended the period in which landlords were prevented from evicting tenants which had been unable to pay rent because of COVID-19.

Nicholls reiterated that hospitality “was one of the first to be seriously affected and we are going to be one of the last to reopen.” She said that reopening, even with social distancing measures in place, “is the best way to secures businesses and jobs.”

More government support will be required:

“While many venues will endeavour to reopen on 4th July, capacities will be constrained by social distancing and some may be unable to trade viably at all, so continued Government support will remain crucial,” Nicholls said.

Nicholls said the industry needed “financial help from the government, otherwise some of these businesses are going to go under right at the point at which they are allowed to open once again.”

Social distancing rule and what it means:

“Reducing the minimum distance will be a huge help to hospitality,” Nicholls said, having being among those calling for this relaxation measure for weeks.

  • The two-metre rule would have restricted capacity for most at around 30 percent — “totally unviable for most businesses.”
  • Reduction to one-metre should see most venues able to trade at around 70 percent of capacity, which “could be the difference between failure and staying alive to see out the remainder of the crisis, particularly with added support.”
  • The social distancing rule is evolving from a mandated rule more into the realm of guidance, with responsibility in the hands of individual operators.
  • Questions remain over hospitality venues’ practical ability to adopt and maintain these rules once they are open, as well as who is ultimately responsible for their enforcement.

Track and trace:

“The safety of staff and customers is the number one priority for our sector,” Nicholls said.

  • The government will ask restaurants to share contact details of customers, for track-and-trace purposes.
  • Nicholls said “swift clarification” on that infrastructure was required “to ensure that venues can implement a workable system by 4 July, with minimal logistical or data challenges.”
  • She added that there needed to be “appropriate flexibility” in order for different venues to be able to operate effectively while also keeping staff and customers safe.

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