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Coronavirus: Pub beer gardens and outdoor restaurants to reopen first

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
The popular Victoria pub and beer garden is closed to the public during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown in Newcastle-under-Lyme. (PA)

Pubs with beer gardens and restaurants with outdoor spaces are likely to reopen before other hospitality venues, according to a UK government minister.

Officials have previously said that while many non-essential shops can reopen from 15 June, the hospitality sector will have to wait until July at the earliest.

Now environment minister George Eustice has confirmed food and drink venues like pubs and restaurants are likely to be able to reopen outdoor spaces first. It was not made clear whether a similar easing would also apply to Britain’s cafes with outdoor spaces.

He told Sky News on Friday morning: “The hospitality sector and some of those other ticketed venues, in particular cinemas and in particular theatres, restaurants and pubs, will face a challenge getting back in to operation.

“And that is why we won’t be loosening the restrictions on them until at least July and even then it is likely that in the case of pubs and restaurants it will begin with beer gardens and outdoor areas only.”

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A growing number of chain restaurants and cafes have begun to reopen takeaway facilities in recent weeks, after introducing new social distancing rules.

Pub chains like JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) have also begun to plan and invest in new measures for when they can reopen. The leading pub group plans to give staff optional personal protective equipment (PPE), employ more cleaners to constantly wipe down surfaces and divide tables with screens where a two-metre gap is not possible.

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Hospitality chiefs have also called for the two-metre rule itself to be reduced to one metre, warning that such large distances may leave customer numbers unsustainably low.

A joint letter from several industry leaders said a one-metre rule would increase the number of pubs able to open safely from around only a third to three-quarters and make reopening far more commercially viable.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), warned earlier this week as many as two-thirds of pub jobs were at risk unless the rules were changed.