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'The virus doesn't care what time it is': Backlash over pubs curfew that could do more harm than good

Victoria Bell
·5-min read
Bar staff begin clearing street furniture ahead of closing time in Soho, London, after pubs and restaurants were subject to a 10pm curfew to combat the rise in coronavirus cases in England.
Crowds of revellers in Soho, London, after pubs and restaurants were subject to a 10pm curfew to combat the rise in coronavirus cases in England. (PA)

The government’s 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants has been slated by experts who say the rule could do more harm than good and that the coronavirus “doesn’t care what time it is”.

Closing venues at 10pm has three sets of “predictable consequences” which are counterproductive in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, according to Sage expert Professor Susan Michie FMedSci, Director of UCL Centre for Behaviour Change.

Ejecting people at the same time onto the streets could lead to crowds on public transport, people socialising beyond curfew, potentially in other people’s homes, she said.

Professor Michie also pointed out that if nights are ending earlier, people may compensate by starting to drink earlier and drinking more rapidly towards the end, leading to more disinhibition and therefore less distancing between people.

Watch: What are the fines for breaching self-isolation? Find out here

People leave bars and restaturants at closing time in Soho, London, the day after pubs and restaurants were subject to a 10pm curfew to combat the rise in coronavirus cases in England.
Experts have criticised the government curfew and asked what the merits are of kicking people out of pubs to crowd onto streets and public transport. (PA)
People queuing outside Compton News convenience store in Soho, London, after pubs and restaurants were subject to a 10pm curfew to combat the rise in coronavirus cases in England.
People queuing outside Compton News convenience store in Soho. Greater Manchester Mayor said that he received reports of people buying alcohol and going to drink it in homes, which is more dangerous. (PA)

“These consequences of the curfew undermine the gains saved by shortening the latter part of the evening and may even be counterproductive,” she said.

“The measure is another example of a restriction brought in without a coherent strategy and without sufficient consultation with relevant experts and communities.”

Her comments come as footage and images show revellers pouring into city centre streets and crowding into stations at around 10pm after restaurants and pubs were forced to kick them out.

The curfew was brought in in a new roster of measures to stop the spread of the virus.

But many experts have questioned the sense behind the curfew and pub industry chiefs are now calling on ministers to give venues more flexibility and to be able to stagger exits.

Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, said: “The scenes across the country are quite unsurprising. Forcing pubs and restaurants to close simultaneously at 10pm pushes people out onto the street and public transport, potentially condensing crowds together.

“The virus doesn’t care what time it is. Transmission will occur from infected people if they are close enough to others to spread droplets, at 10pm, 10am or any time in between.

“If the point of the curfew was to encourage people not to go crazy in late-night venues, that's fine, but if it is encouraging 1970s-style pub closing time mauls, the virus could say, thank you very much.”

Read more: Scottish police break up 300 house parties during university lockdown chaos

Professor Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University questioned whether the curfew has had any measurable impact.

“There is precious little evidence that any of the social interventions in those areas have worked. This, of course, raises the question of why the government is doubling down in ways that will provoke further conflict between police and citizens and inflict yet more misery in pursuit of the impossible dream of total control.”

Rt. Hon. Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, sanitises his hands before a memorial service for the victims of coronavirus at Manchester Cathedral.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, pictured at a mass service in July, called for an urgent review of the 10pm curfew saying it created an incentive for people to gather in homes. (PA)

Earlier on Monday, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham called for an urgent review of the 10pm curfew saying it created an incentive for people to gather in homes.

He said that he received reports that people were queuing up outside shops to buy more alcohol.

“My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good. It creates an incentive for people to gather in the street or more probably to gather in the home.

Read more: Pubs, restaurants and cafés ‘contributed to a fifth of COVID-19 infections’

“That is the opposite of what our local restrictions here are trying to do. I don’t think this has been fully thought through.”

He suggested one option could be to impose a 9pm curfew on alcohol sales in shops to prevent the rush to off-licences after the pubs close.

Health minister Helen Whately said the Government was keeping an “open mind” about the new coronavirus regulations which came into force in England on Thursday.

Ms Whately said ministers are seeking to learn from experience but that the Government had had to act in response to the rising infection rates.

“It is clearly early days. We have just changed this rule last week,” she told the Today programme.

Watch: Care Minister Helen Whately ‘We don’t want tighter restrictions’

Read more: Third wave of coronavirus 'entirely possible', government adviser warns

“We keep an open mind on what is the best way to go about it. The steps that we have taken, particularly with the 10pm curfew, is something that we have done in some places during the course of the summer where we saw localised outbreaks and hospitality being part of the picture.

“We are constantly learning and seeing what has the most impact but we clearly need to take a step because of what we have seen with the rates going up across the country.”

Coronavirus: what happened today
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