Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to order tough new COVID restrictions next week in northern England, which could include the closure of pubs and restaurants altogether in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.
In an announcement that may come within the next couple of days, the prime minister is expected to reveal a crackdown in response to alarming rises in coronavirus cases in the worst hit areas.
The Prime Minister is already facing a growing rebellion among his own MPs but is nevertheless expected to order the closures alongside new financial support measures and a ‘simplified system of restrictions in England’. Large parts of the north are already under stringent restriction, but infection rates have continued to soar. The tighter measures will seemingly see the hospitality sector forced to shut but schools, offices and shops kept open.
The probable new restrictions follow Scotland’s announcement that it will ban the sale of alcohol indoors and that shut pubs and restaurants in central locations for at least two weeks. The Scottish Licensed Trade Association has described the measures as “cataclysmic” for the industry with the fallout being hundreds of business closures and thousands of job losses.
Colin Wilkinson, SLTA managing director, said: “The recent introduction of the 10pm closing time plus the two-household group of six rule is having a devasting effect on the industry – closures are looming and now today’s announcement of further restrictions and temporary lockdowns will only accelerate business failure and job losses.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday a rise in infections was “not good news” for the hospitality industry. He said: ‘Outside your household and socialising between households, the highest place in incidence of likely transmission, measured by where people have contacts, is unfortunately hospitality. Now obviously that finding is not good news in terms of the policy action we have to take for that sector.’
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, tweeted: “If this is anywhere near being considered then govt must simultaneously announce support measures to go alongside – return to full furlough and grants – otherwise this will be catastrophic. Hospitality businesses in north have far lower footfall so link to infection questionable.”
And Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, tweeted: “No discussion. No consultation. Millions of lives affected by Whitehall diktat. It is proving impossible to deal with this Government.”
The government is being challenged over the basis of targeted restrictions on restaurants, pubs and bars, with Labour leader Keir Starmer calling on the government to release the scientific reasoning behind the 10pm curfew. One of the main Tory rebels, MP Steve Baker, said: ‘We’re hearing about people who are being destroyed by this lockdown, strong, confident people, outgoing people, gregarious people who are being destroyed and reduced to repeated episodes of tears on the phone. ‘This is a devastating social impact on our society, and I believe that people would make different choices were they the ones able to take responsibility for themselves.’
The announcement comes in the wake of a swathe of closures announced by pub operator Greene King yesterday (Wednesday, October 7).
Nick Mackenzie, Greene King CEO, said:“Today’s shut-down of Scottish pubs is a devastating blow for the thousands of people who work in the industry. We understand that decisive action needs to be taken to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We have invested millions of pounds in ensuring that our pubs are safe and only had six Test and Protect requests from NHS Scotland in total across our 125 managed pubs since we reopened on 15 July, having served millions of customers. It is time to stop unfairly targeting pubs.
“The sector has already seen pub closures and job losses and a second shut-down will see more closures and lost jobs in every Scottish community. We welcome the acknowledgement that support is needed but are concerned that £40m won’t go far enough and urgently need to understand the detail and the speed this can be deployed.”