Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Home Europe English pubs to close at 10pm amid Covid spread

English pubs to close at 10pm amid Covid spread


People drinking in a barImage copyright
PA Media

All pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues in England must have a 22:00 closing time from Thursday, to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

The sector will also be restricted by law to table service only.

The measures will be set out by the prime minister in Parliament before an address to the nation to be broadcast live at 20:00 BST on Tuesday.

It comes asthe UK’s Covid-19 alert level moved to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.

The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallancewarned there could be 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-Octoberwithout further action – which, he said, could lead to more than 200 deaths per day by mid-November.

On Monday, a further 4,368 daily cases and 11 deaths were reported in the UK. There were 3,899 cases reported on Sunday.

Further restrictions will also be announcedin Scotlandon Tuesday, while restrictions on households mixing indoorswill be extended to all of Northern Ireland.

Also from 18:00 BST on Tuesday,four more counties in south Wales will face new measures, including a 23:00 curfew for pubs and bars.

The UK cabinet will meet on Tuesday morning and Boris Johnson will also chair a Cobra emergency meeting – which will be attended by the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Speaking about the new closing times, a No 10 spokesperson said: “No-one underestimates the challenges the new measures will pose to many individuals and businesses.

“We know this won’t be easy, but we must take further action to control the resurgence in cases of the virus and protect the NHS.”

Tighter restrictions on pub and restaurant opening times are already in place in parts of north-east and north-west England, and Wales.

What difference will it make?

People are understandably asking what difference closing at 22:00 makes. Coupled with the table service law, it will be little more than a marginal gain.

But what ministers hope is that the move, along with the rule of six that came into force last week, will act as a warning to the public that efforts to curb the virus need to be redoubled.

What remains to be seen is whether any other restrictions will accompany this move.

Behind the scenes both ministers and their advisers have argued over what is the right thing to do and how much the public will be willing to tolerate.

It seems inevitable that the virus will continue to spread – that’s what respiratory viruses do during winter, especially one for which there is limited immunity and no vaccine.

But how quickly and widely is something no one knows.

The risk of trying to suppress the virus is the government will soon find itself having to make another decision about further steps.

How far are ministers prepared to go? Every restriction that is taken has a negative consequence to society.

But the nature of the virus means lives will undoubtedly be lost the more it spreads. Balancing those two harms will define the next six months.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, said the new rules should be “applied with flexibility” and called for more support for the sector.

“A hard close time is bad for business and bad for controlling the virus – we need to allow time for people to disperse over a longer period,” she said.

“Table service has been widely adopted in some parts of the sector since reopening, but it is not necessary across all businesses, such as coffee shops.”

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association, said the announcement was “yet another devastating blow” and warned it would result in a “surge of unregulated events and house parties”.

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, said the move “seems to have emerged from a random policy generator” and called on the government to publish the evidence upon which it was based.

“While mandatory table service has been part of the successful Swedish approach and may have merit, the new closing time will be devastating to a hospitality sector that was already suffering after the first lockdown,” he said.

If Boris Johnson had decreed a year ago that he was going to call last orders on the pub at 10pm, the ravens might have left the Tower.

But given the terrible warnings from the government’s top scientists on Monday, thekind of strict measures that ministers had been discussing– and the extent of restrictions that many people are already living with in some of our towns and cities – you might wonder if what the prime minister has ended up deciding is less stringent than it might have been.

As we have talked about many times, Downing Street is all too aware of the economic havoc the restrictions around the pandemic have caused.

Logically, therefore, it has always only wanted to take action when it has felt absolutely urgent. It is also the case that, as we enter a second surge, more is understood about the virus itself.

That means the government ought to be able to take a more sophisticated approach to managing the spread, rather than blunt, blunderbuss nationwide measures.

At least for now, the prime minister has concluded there is a narrow, but real chance to put the brakes on the outbreak before taking more draconian steps.

Read more from Laura.

New measureswill also come into force in Lancashire, Merseyside, parts of the Midlands and West Yorkshirefrom Tuesday.

Other areas of England, Scotland and Wales are already underlocal lockdown, with restrictions including a ban on mixing with other households.

The prime minister’s announcement on closing times comes after a series of meetings over the weekend, including with the government’s chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty, Chancellor Rishi Sunk and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

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