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What the End of Plan B Covid-19 Restrictions Means for Restaurants

Though Covid-19 face mask and work from home guidance didn’t directly impact hospitality, their removal will affect dining out

In the face of a pork pie plot, deposed Prime Minister walking Boris Johnson has announced that Plan B Covid-19 restrictions will end in England on 26 January, as per the planned review of their efficacy.

Johnson told Prime Minister’s Questions — in which leading Tory MP David Davis told him to go, and before which a Tory MP defected to Labour — that “scientists believe Omicron has peaked nationally in England.” Both cases and hospital admissions in the U.K. are falling week-on-week; though deaths are still rising by 2.8 percent week-on-week, they are the most lagged statistic and will mirror the downward trajectory in the coming weeks. This is not, for all of the porky pies and party lies, a decision purely of political distraction.

While Plan B restrictions, which included mandated masks and work from home guidance, didn’t directly impact restaurants, London restaurateurs said they feared their impact on consumer confidence even before the Omicron wave led so many to preemptively close out of concern for staff welfare and inevitable reduced trade. And while reports of the death of central London have been greatly exaggerated, the long-term observation of the “polo mint economy” of 2020 and 2021 has not lost its freshness.

This change does not mean that restaurants are obliged not to use masks, nor that businesses are obliged to bring employees back to offices. As throughout the last two years, it is the ability to exist within and react to uncertainty and flux that remains key; not to swerve from one pole to another and to treat the granting of choice as an order to discard. Indeed, Johnson’s most immediate threat — if he even lasts as Prime Minister until these restrictions are lifted in seven days’ time — might come from what this move says about his previous decision-making. While complaints of hypocrisy from Wetherspoons’s boss Tim Martin are to be taken in some pretty damning context, the logical feeling of resentment from the industry at parties fuelled by supermarket booze when pubs were closed could be taken up by less mendacious characters.

And so it played out: Omicron became the nightmare before Christmas, but restaurants in London can now more confidently look to a future which is Covid restriction-free, even if the impacts of the virus will never fully be resigned to the past.

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