In two weeks’ time, on Monday 19 July, restaurants and pubs can expect to reopen fully for the first time since March 2020. This is the message expected to be delivered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his new health secretary Sajid Javid at a press conference this evening, 5 July, when they set out what “lifting restrictions” actually means.
While for restaurants the impact of the removal of the last remaining restrictions is likely to be minimal, for pubs it is more significant since it will give them the opportunity to serve customers at the bar and allow parties of more than six — from different households and support bubbles — to mix inside their venues. While the change is all but confirmed, it will not be formally certain until 12 July.
With 86 percent of adults in the U.K. having been vaccinated with at least one dose, the government will “move from relying on legal curbs to control people’s behaviour to letting individuals make their own decisions,” the Guardian reports.
The announced changes are expected to include:
- Face masks voluntary, apart from in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
- No restrictions on party numbers or household mixing in indoor settings, such as pubs and restaurants.
- Fully vaccinated adults can travel to amber list countries without having to self-isolate on return.
- Fully vaccinated adults do not have to self-isolate if they have come into contact with an infected person.
The confirmation that the last remaining set of restrictions will be lifted — a month later than scheduled in the government’s original reopening “roadmap” — comes at a time when scientists are warning the government about the risks of full reopening with coronavirus case numbers having reached their highest level since January 2021, even as hospitalisations and deaths remain low. This morning, NHS Medical Director for England Stephen Powis said that the NHS is “prepared” for the impact of an exit wave after 19 July.
This announcement is also coinciding with a growing number of London restaurants having to close after notifications of contact with a positive COVID-19 case, and the period of isolation which follows as mandated by the government’s test and trace system. The risks for many of the most vulnerable, such as those younger people who work in hospitality settings, who will almost certainly not be fully vaccinated at the time of full, unrestricted reopening, will remain unchanged.
Restaurants and the wider hospitality industry will therefore hope for new guidance as regards test, trace, and isolation. Cases will continue to rise and resultantly hospitality workers are likely to increase contact with positive infections. But current guidance, which states that a whole staff must isolate (and the venue must close) if one member of staff comes into contact with a positive case, will be unfit for purpose as more and more individuals in hospitality settings come into contact with an increased number of cases that the government has deemed acceptable as part of its reopening plan. Without such a change, “reopening” will quickly lead to temporary closure for many restaurants just as furlough and business rate support reduces, putting further pressure on already stretched finances and leaving workers on insufficient statutory sick pay. They can currently claim a £500 grant from the gov.uk website.
The 19 July will certainly mark the end of the road, insofar as it has been mapped out by the government, but it really signals the beginning of a new era in which the nation is going to be told to accustom itself to “living with” this coronavirus.