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Households Cannot Mix Inside London’s Restaurants, Pubs, and Bars

London enters tier 2 coronavirus restrictions, which do not require businesses to close but do severely restrict trade

A waiter in a mask outside a London restaurant
Outdoor dining in winter?
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

London entered tier 2 coronavirus restrictions, designated “high risk,” from midnight on Friday 16 October, leading into the morning of Saturday 17 October. Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions ban households from mixing indoors, but do not oblige restaurants, pubs, or bars to close. The “rule of six” applies to gathering outdoors or at outdoor seating at restaurants, pubs, and bars. The city is above the 100 cases per 100,000 threshold for entering tier 2, so the public health case for further restrictions is there.

This creates big problems for restaurants, pubs, bars, and their staff. The practical methods of verifying whether a booking is restricted to one household or a bubble are akin to document checks. The 10 p.m. hospitality curfew is still in place, which together with these mixing bans will represent a serious throttle on trade in establishments where capacity is already reduced by social distancing. Outdoor dining can continue, but these are not heady summer days: it is cold, it is getting darker earlier, and it is raining.

But by far the biggest problem is how these government coronavirus restrictions interact with government coronavirus recovery measures. Two weeks after London enters tier 2 coronavirus restrictions, the current Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will expire and move to the Job Support Scheme (JSS.) The latter scheme is based around “viable jobs,” which translates to a worker fulfilling a third of their regular contracted hours. Throttling trade with household mixing and and the 10 p.m. curfew will make more restaurant, pub, and bar jobs less viable, just as they need to be viable in order to qualify for job support. Workers that remain on furlough and might have been able to come off it owing to tier 1 demand will now be left with no job support at all. Any businesses that have to close entirely because these restrictions make them non-viable will have no recourse to government grants or the COVID-19 lockdown job support that sees the government pay 67 percent of wages, because they have not been legally forced to close.

This echoes with the few days before the 20 March national lockdown, when guests were “advised” not to visit restaurants, but restaurants were not ordered to close. A restaurant “allowed” to trade, under a curfew, in either tier 2 or even tier 3 when households are not allowed to mix, is eligible for significantly less support than a pub in tier 3 that “cannot” serve food and is therefore obliged to close by the same coronavirus regulations that allow restaurants to stay open in an environment not conducive to their survival. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has accordingly joined U.K. Hospitality in calling for enhanced employment support for businesses in tier 2 areas, with hundreds of thousands of jobs in the sector at risk.

More soon.