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Pubs and city centre firms warn new coronavirus rules could be a 'fatal blow'

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
A traditional "last orders" bell is seen behind the bar at The Speaker pub in Victoria, central London, November 23, 2005. About one third of all the pubs, clubs and shops in England and Wales licensed to sell alcohol will stay open for longer from midnight on Wednesday as Britain seeks a new way to tackle its binge drinking problem. Under new licensing laws, the country's pubs and bars will be allowed to stay open for longer and the fixed 11 p.m. closing time observed by most pubs since World War One will be swept away. CPROD REUTERS/Toby Melville
The chief executive of the Campaign for Real Ale, dubbed the pub curfew 'arbitrary.' Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

New coronavirus restrictions are a “potentially fatal blow” for many of Britain’s pubs, bars, and restaurants, business chiefs have warned.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson faced a barrage of warnings over the threat to firms and jobs on Tuesday after he unveiled measures for England including encouraging home-working again and a 10pm shutdown for hospitality venues.

Johnson also told parliament new restrictions could last “perhaps six months” as Britain struggles to contain the resurgent virus through other measures. First minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the same hospitality curfew would apply in Scotland, and similar measures are expected in Northern Ireland and Wales.

Watch: What are the new Covid-19 measures for pubs?

Business leaders called for more support for hospitality firms facing fresh restrictions and dashed expectations of recovery on top of months of unprecedented disruption.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of the UKHospitality trade body, warned: “These restrictions are a further, potentially fatal, blow for many hospitality businesses. In isolation, they may appear moderate, but the cumulative effect is going to be hugely damaging.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson unveils new rules to combat coronavirus second wave

Hospitality firms in city centres, which have already “lagged behind” with many office workers and tourists yet to return, face “another battering” from the government’s shift on home working, she said.

She warned some firms could lose half of their revenue from the order to close at 10pm, if they were unable to accommodate two meal sittings.

Tighter rules could also hit the fragile recovery in consumer confidence, she added. “We cannot hope to recover while confidence remains low.”

Watch: Pubs bosses insist early shutdown won't help reduce infection rates

Nicholls warned many firms would not survive six months of heavy curbs, and demanded help settling rent debts and an extension of the furlough scheme, VAT cuts and a business rates holiday for hospitality.

The Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) director-general Carolyn Fairbairn echoed Nicholls’ warning about the risk to millions of hospitality and city centre jobs.

Six months would come as a “shock” to many firms, she added, acknowledging government action to curb rising cases was necessary but saying it would come at a “serious price.”

Fairbairn called for a new job protection scheme to replace the furlough programme which ends in October, and permission for firms to defer VAT payments. Testing must also improve to get people back to work and restore confidence, she added. “It’s time for a united national push to turbo-charge testing capabilities.”

READ MORE: Pound takes another dip following tighter COVID-19 restrictions

Tom Stainer, chief executive of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), dubbed the pub curfew “arbitrary,” saying it punished firms complying with guidelines.

"Make no mistake about this — without a proper financial support package, communities will lose their local forever, people will lose their jobs, and publicans their livelihoods.”

Sacha Lord, co-founder of some of the biggest music events in Europe, including The Warehouse Project and Parklife festival in Manchester, said “staggered egress” will end when pubs and bars all close at the same time.

“I’m expecting it’s going to be back to your traditional ring of the bell at quarter to 10 and doors close at 10.

“From what I’m hearing, I have spoken to a couple of operators, looking at rebelling on it, either go bust or take a chance and not sticking to the curfew.”

Watch: What is a V-shaped economic recovery?

Johnson had told MPs as he outlined the new measures: “We always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real and I’m sorry to say that, as in Spain and France and many other countries, we’ve reached a perilous turning point.”

He said no government wanted to “stifle our freedoms,” but the UK had to act now to avoid “still graver consequences later on” with infection, hospitalisation and death rates again rising across Britain.