Boris Johnson on Tuesday confirmed that pubs and other leisure businesses can re-open from 4 July, as the UK prime minister relaxed social distancing rules from two metres to one metre.
In a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said pubs and restaurants would be allowed to reopen with new health and safety restrictions from next month. Hairdressers and nail bars will also be allowed to reopen.
“All hospitality indoors will be limited to table service and our guidance will encourage minimal contact between staff and customers,” Johnson said.
Pubs stocks were already rising ahead of the official announcement, which was leaked to the press overnight. Marston’s (MARS.L) was up 5%, JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) rose 5.4%, All Bar One-owner Mitchells & Butlers (MAB.L) was up 6% and Young & Co’s Brewing (YNGN.L) jumped 9.8%.
Pubs are likely to look very different when they do reopen. Health secretary Matt Hancock said over the weekend that government was “looking at” requiring publicans to take the details of all pub-goers as part of contact tracing measures. The chief executive of pub group Marston’s said the proposals were “bonkers”.
Johnson made no mention of check-in systems for pubs but said the government was publishing new advice to businesses on safely reopening. It includes avoiding face-to-face seating, improving ventilation, erecting protective screens, providing hand sanitiser, and changing shift patterns to limit the number of staff that overlap,
The Prime Minister said that “where it is possible to keep two metres apart, people should”, but said extra safety measures should mean staying one metre or more apart would carry a “broadly equivalent” risk to the two metre rule.
Relaxing social distancing rules is a huge boost for many businesses. Retailers, restaurants, theatres and more had warned that forcing people to stay two metres apart at all times would make their businesses unviable. Johnson said he was aware the rule made business “effectively impossible” for many companies.
“Reducing the two metre rule will undoubtedly bring relief to many businesses,” Edwin Morgan, director of policy at the Institute of Directors said.
"A quarter of our members have said that under current social distancing rules they are likely to operate at less than half capacity. For many, this simply isn't sustainable, particularly with the furlough scheme set to wind down.”
Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chamber of Commerce, said the new rules would be “cautiously welcomed” but said the UK was “still a long way from business as usual.”
“A comprehensive test and trace system, including a mass testing regime, must be in place to realise the benefits that the easing of restrictions could bring to firms across the UK, many of whom are relying on the swift return of consumer confidence,” Marshall said.
“Businesses also need a clear roadmap to recovery, including fresh support for the worst-affected sectors and geographic areas, and broader fiscal measures to get the economy moving again.”
USDAW, the shop workers union, expressed concern about the relaxation of social distancing rules.
“COVID-19 is still a killer disease that is at large in our communities,” Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said in a statement ahead of the prime minister’s announcement.
“Retail has adapted well to the new circumstances, it is not necessary to change the two metre rule and it certainly shouldn’t be done without full discussion and agreement.”