Boris Johnson has confirmed when restaurants and pubs will reopen after coronavirus lockdown for outdoor dining and drinking. The Covid-19 roadmap will continue as planned with reopening on 12 April, and restaurants and pubs will not be required to use so-called “vaccine passports” to admit customers. The “four tests” — vaccination rollout, those vaccines reducing hospitalisations and deaths, infection rates not presenting a risk of unsustainable pressure on the NHS and new variants not fundamentally changing the picture — that notably did not include high case numbers — have been met.
Johnson said that “it is really clear now that this is paying off,” and said that the reopening of outdoor hospitality was “justified by the data.” Diners and drinkers will be required to use the NHS Covid-19 app to “check in,” with changes in the rules obliging everybody present in a booking to do so; previously, only the person who had made the reservation was obliged to use the app. Operators and guests alike will hope that the app, designed to facilitate the testing and tracing of outbreaks, will actually do the testing and tracing this time, after a leaked report revealed that its data on tens of millions of pub and restaurant check-ins had been ignored by the £37 billion and counting Test and Trace system.
Johnson said there was “absolutely no question” of restaurants, pubs, cafes, or bars requiring vaccine passports for entry either from 12 April or 17 May, when indoor dining is set to resume. He confirmed that restaurants and pubs will be exempt from any Covid certification scheme, in a move designed to placate tens of rebel Conservative MPs who had attacked plans to introduce them for pubs and restaurants as impinging on civil liberties. Labour leader Keir Starmer said they would be “against the British instinct,” which is his version of a stinging attack.
Johnson also confirmed the provision of two free lateral flow Covid-19 tests per adult, per week in England. One under-discussed side of the vaccine passport debate — given that optimistic data on vaccines’ reducing transmission still requires more research — has been provision of testing and support for restaurant and pub staff, which this provision may help to ease despite concerns over the accuracy of lateral flow tests.
While there was no expectation that reopening would be delayed, the confirmation chimes with the “cautious but irreversible” mantra that the government has adopted after twelve months of irrefutable criticism of its tendency to overpromise, underdeliver, and force businesses to abrupt yo-yos from open to closed and back again. Restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars will hope that it holds true for 17 May: the planned reopening date for indoor dining.