Via video link, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the government’s Covid-19 winter plan to the House of Commons this afternoon, confirming that national lockdown will be lifted next Wednesday, but forcing London restaurants to wait and see what restrictions they will face when they do.
Replacing the national lockdown will be a reintroduction of the tier system, albeit with “strengthened” measures attached to each. Before London restaurants learn what restrictions they will be required to operate under net week — the Prime Minister said “later this week, hopefully Thursday” — the relevant details for hospitality businesses are two-fold:
- In tier two coronavirus restrictions areas, under which London had been operating in the second half of October, alcohol can only be served alongside a “substantial meal.” This particularly affects pubs; a measure that was previously only a condition for venues in tier three.
- More significantly, the Prime Minister confirmed that in tier three, “all forms of hospitality will have to close except for takeaway and delivery.”
Trade body UK Hospitality’s said the “new, tighter tier system is at best a restrictive straitjacket and at worst a lockdown in all but name for hospitality businesses.” Chief executive Kate Nicholls who last night called early reports of these measures “absolutely devastating” said:
“If there needs to be a tightening of restrictions, it should not come at the expense of hospitality [...] If the Government pursues this course of action, it is going to mean permanent closures and job losses.
“Tier three will be lockdown in everything but name for hospitality and will leave businesses almost no room for manoeuvre. With household mixing still not permitted, businesses in tier two are going to find revenues severely slashed at a crucial time for the sector.”
While London entered national lockdown from tier two restrictions, the latest data on coronavirus infection indicates an increase in the capital; running counter to the overall national trend.
The latest figures, reported by the Guardian, state: “Along with south-east England, London is one of only two regions where a majority of areas have recorded a rise in the latest figures. Of the 32 areas in London, 20 showed an increase, the biggest jumps being Havering, Enfield, and Redbridge.”
Johnson said “some regions will fall into higher tiers than before, albeit temporarily.”
Finally, one small reprieve for restaurants and pubs is that the 10 p.m. curfew will be extended by an hour, meaning that last order must be called by 10 p.m., with doors closed at 11 p.m. However, Nicholls said it “will help with dispersal of customers, but it doesn’t change the fact that businesses won’t be able generate revenues after 10 p.m.”
Answering questions from MPs on behalf of the self-isolating Prime Minister who suffered a technical issue with his video connection, health secretary Matt Hancock said that, though incidence of transmission inside hospitality venues was comparatively low, the reason it would be in receipt of strict restrictions was because of the wider implications of social mixing inside confined spaces.
“In order to protect the ability of people going to work and for schools to remain open, we must reduce the contact that the virus thrives on [...] later in the evening social distancing declines,” Hancock said.
More soon with reaction from those in the industry.