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London’s Restaurants Must Enter Lockdown for a Third Time

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirms that 2021 will begin with even greater uncertainty than ended 2020

UK Debuts Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool / Getty Images

On Monday night, in a live televised address, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown for England as the government tries to stave off soaring cases of COVID-19, after a new variant emerged in the U.K. during the latter part of 2020. It means that from midnight on Tuesday 5 January, England will come under restrictions reminiscent of measures introduced in March 2020. At what Johnson called a “pivotal moment,” he said “the government is instructing everyone to stay at home” after hospitals had come under more pressure from COVID-19 than at any other time during the pandemic.

Unlike lockdown 2.0 in November, the latest round of restrictions have not yet been given an end date, meaning more uncertainty and posing fresh questions for London restaurants, closed since before Christmas, and now in lockdown limbo: How long will they remain closed? Will financial support commensurate with the severity of restrictions be forthcoming? How, in the meantime, will consumers use restaurants having once again been instructed to stay at home? The industry will expect some clarity, if not definite answers, soon.

What lockdown three will surely mean is that fewer people will be on the city’s streets, with schools closed from tomorrow until at least the spring half-term, or 22 February. As well as leaving home for medical or domestic violence emergencies and if work cannot be done remotely, people may only leave to shop for “essentials” or to exercise. “If action is not taken, NHS capacity risks being overwhelmed,” Johnson said.

The Prime Minister emphasised that it was “both frustrating and alarming to see the speed of the new variant,” Johnson said, adding that it was between 50 and 70 percent more transmissible than the variant of the virus which appears to have first emerged last spring.

To counter-balance announcing the third national lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic, Johnson peppered his address with mentions of the vaccine roll-out — the “way out” of the coronavirus crisis. It was with an end in sight, and after the first doses of the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine were administered this morning, that the latest lockdown differed from last March, the Prime Minister said.

In response to the new measures, chief executive of trade group, UK Hospitality Kate Nicholls said the tighter restrictions meant that hospitality businesses were a long way from being able to reopen and “keep jobs alive.” She added that government now needed use its time effectively “to provide a rapid and extensive roll out of the vaccine and we need a clear exit strategy along with a road map for recovery and business support.”

Nicholls said that hospitality was sitting on “well-ventilated, COVID-secure spaces such as hotels, conference centres, pubs and restaurants which could be used to “expedite a mass vaccination programme.”

Critically, the chef executive said that restaurants, pubs, and bars were given another package of grants, alongside an extension of the VAT cut and business rates holiday, “which were already urgently needed even before these further restrictions were announced.”