Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin, has hit out at restrictions designed to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 as “arbitrary”, warning that the pub chain’s first half profits could be wiped out by what he describes as “lockdown by stealth”
In an update to the stock market, JD Wetherspoon told investors that “uncertainty, and the introduction of radical changes of direction by the government, make predictions for sales and profits hazardous”.
The company, which constantly reported increasing sales before the pandemic, suffered a £105.4m loss in the year to July 2020 followed by a record £195m deficit the year after, as coronavirus restrictions took their toll.
“The repeated warnings and calls for restrictions, mainly from SAGE members and academics, combined with random changes of direction from the Government, always at short notice, affect customer sentiment and trade. In effect, the country appears to be heading towards a lockdown by stealth.” He said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week introduced new restrictions including widespread mandatory mask wearing and advice for people to work from home if they can. Pubs and other hospitality venues are still permitted to open but many businesses are facing a drastic fall in trade as people voluntarily reduce contact for fear of catching the Omicron variant.
Tim Martin said said concern among customers and the new restrictions were hitting its business. The company warned it was likely to make a loss or, at best, be “marginally profitable” when it reports half-year results.
“The company will continue to concentrate on providing high standards of service, reasonable prices and regular, small upgrades to the business.” He said.
Tim Martin has been an outspoken critic of restrictions and measures affecting pubs, contending that people are more likely to catch the virus at home than at a pub.
He said today: “There have been no outbreaks, as defined by the health authorities, of Covid-19 among customers in Wetherspoon pubs. The typical British pub, contrary to received opinion in academia, is usually a bastion of social distancing.”