The 10pm curfew for the hospitality industry remains in place despite a growing backlash from a number of MP’s and the sector itself, concerned about the damage it is doing to hospitality businesses.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the policy is a ‘necessary’ measure to curb rising rates of coronavirus infections but that it is ‘being constantly reviewed’.
Speaking in the House of Commons last week Hancock acknowledged the earlier closing time was “yet another sacrifice” for the hospitality sector but said there were “early signs” the measure was working. “By its nature, this virus spreads through social contact, and so it’s had a terrible impact on the hospitality sector which, in good times, exists to encourage that social contact we all enjoy,” he said in a Commons statement.
“So, we’ve had to take difficult but necessary decisions to suppress the virus. The only alternative to suppressing the virus is to let it rip, and I will not do that. So, while I know many of the individual rules are challenging, they are necessary, and there are those early signs that they’re working. In the measures we’ve introduced, including the 10pm restriction, we’re seeking to strike a balance, allowing people to continue to socialise safely where that’s possible, while reducing the social contact that the virus thrives upon.
Elsewhere in the world they’ve introduced an evening restriction and then seen their case numbers fall, and we know later at night people are less likely to follow social distancing. Now, of course, we keep all our measures under review and we’ll closely monitor the impact of this policy, as with all the others, while continuing our unprecedented support for hospitality businesses, such as cutting VAT, support for the pay of staff, offering rates relief for businesses, and giving billions of pounds of tax deferrals and loans. Our hospitality industry provides so much colour and life in this country and we will do whatever we can to support it while acting fast to keep this virus under control.”
The Health Secretary was questioned several times on the validity of the curfew and how the government has come to the decision to impose such a rule, with Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper saying “lives and livelihoods” were being put at risk as she urged ministers to scrap the measure.
She told the Commons: “The evidence is clear the 10pm pubs curfew has been a hammer-blow to hospitality and turfing crowds of people out of Covid-secure venues on to the streets is putting lives and livelihoods at risk.”
She added: “This government is making thousands upon thousands of hospitality jobs unviable, undermining public health and killing our high streets.”
Former cabinet minister Greg Clark added: “It does seem strange to think that concentrating trade in a smaller number of hours and making everyone leave a pub or a restaurant at the same time rather than spacing them out over the course of the evening should suppress rather than spread the virus.
“So would the Secretary of State summarise the scientific advice he has had on this point?”
The Health Secretary replied: “The scientific advice is that the people who are closer together are more likely to spread the virus, and later at night social distancing becomes harder.
“We’ve all seen the pictures of people leaving pubs at 10 o’clock but otherwise they would have been inside the establishments and we all know that outside is safer, or they’d be leaving later. Of course, we keep this under review and of course we’re constantly looking at how we can improve these policies, but I think we’ve got to look at both sides of the evidence to try to get this right.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has also today (October 5) thrown his weight behind calls for an “immediate review” of curfew.
As well as calling for a review The Mayor said that “emergency financial aid” must be provided to clubs, theatres and other venues.
He said: “There have been some real concerns over the last week that the current 10pm closing time for pubs, bars and restaurants may be a counter-productive measure in stopping the spread of the virus.
“The government should carry out an immediate review of the effectiveness of this measure. It is essential that our clubs, theatres and other venues get access to extra emergency financial aid as long as the restrictions remain in place.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he explained: “I think there needs to be an urgent review of the emerging evidence from police forces across the country.”