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Wetherspoon raises concerns about pub industry's future if curbs continue

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Signage is seen on a window of a closed Wetherspoon pub, London
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(Reuters) - Britain's J D Wetherspoon slipped into a first-half loss from a year-earlier profit on Friday as all of its pubs were closed during the holidays due to COVID-19 restrictions and the company warned of a tough future for the hospitality sector because of ongoing curbs.

Its chairman Tim Martin, a critic of the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, said that the future of the industry depended on a "consistent set of sensible policies" and the ending of lockdowns and tier systems.

Wetherspoon, more commonly known as just "Spoons" among Britons, is set to open beer gardens, rooftop gardens and patios at nearly 400 of its 872 pubs next month in light of easing restrictions.

"We think JDW should be able to get close to pre-COVID-19 profit levels in FY22," Stifel analyst Mark Irvine-Fortescue said.

The company, which posted its first annual loss since 1984 in fiscal year 2020, has had to cut hundreds of jobs and ask investors for money twice, to get through the pandemic.

Martin said the curbs, including curfews, "substantial meals" with drinks, and masks for bathroom visits, had "no real basis in common sense or science", reiterating his stance that the government be more considerate towards the industry.

Wetherspoon also kept its dividend suspended and reported a pre-tax loss of 46.2 million pounds ($64.34 million) for the six months ended Jan. 24. It had reported a profit of 57.9 million pounds a year earlier.

On St Patrick's Day alone, pubs lost out on 14 million sales of pints, while 8.2 billion pounds in trade value was wiped out from the sector just in beer sales since the first round of lockdowns last year, the British Beer and Pub Association estimated this week.

(Reporting by Muvija M, Chris Peters and Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)