Hospitality in England welcomes end of social distancing but long road to recovery ahead

05 July 2021 by
Hospitality in England welcomes end of social distancing but long road to recovery ahead

The prime minister has confirmed that all social distancing restrictions will be dropped in England's move to step four, with no Covid certificate required as a condition of entry for any venue or event.

It is hoped the country will move to step four of the easing of lockdown on 19 July, however this will not be confirmed until 12 July. The move was originally expected to take place on 21 June.

From step four, all legal limits on the numbers of people meeting indoors and outdoors will be removed, including at life events such as weddings and funerals, as will the one-metre-plus social distancing requirement and the legal obligation to wear a face covering in certain situations. All businesses will be permitted to reopen, including nightclubs, and the requirement for table service in venues will also end.

The limit on numbers of people attending concerts, theatre and sports events will be lifted and the government will no longer instruct people to work from home. Boris Johnson said employers can "start planning a safe return to the workplace".

People will still have to self-isolate if they are told to do so by the NHS Test and Trace app or if they test positive, however the prime minister said the government was looking to move to "a different regime for fully vaccinated contacts of those testing positive".

Johnson also said the government will work with the travel industry towards removing the need for fully vaccinated arrivals from amber countries to isolate, with an update from transport secretary Grant Shapps expected later this week.

"We will place an emphasis on strengthened guidance and do everything possible to avoid re-imposing restrictions with all the costs that they bring," said Johnson.

"We'll move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus."

He added: "We have to balance the risks – the risks of the disease… and the risks of continuing with legally enforced restrictions that inevitably take their toll on peoples' lives and livelihoods, on peoples' health and mental health… if we can't reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we'll be helped by the arrival of summer and the school holidays… when will we be able to return to normal?... The alternative to that is to open up in winter when the virus will have the advantage, or not at all this year."

Speaking in the House of Commons, health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed ‘vaccine passports' would not be required to enter businesses.

It comes after some hospitality owners warned they could create a "nightmare" for operators and place staff in a difficult position.

Javid said the negative impact on businesses and those who have not yet been fully vaccinated "outweighed the public health benefits". However, businesses can use Covid-status certification "at their own discretion".

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, welcomed the news that hospitality venues will soon be able to "cast off the restrictions that have heavily constrained them commercially" although said it would "still be a long road back" to recovery for businesses that "have been forced to take on debt just to survive".

She added: "Hospitality businesses will continue to provide safe and enjoyable experiences as we move into the Summer and beyond and, in doing so, will also safeguard jobs, livelihoods and the venues we cherish so much. In order to do so, venues will need autonomy to act according to their own risk assessments, without local authority gold-plating, and a workable test and trace system that doesn't demand blanket self-isolation like the test to remain-style system, to ensure that we can both protect our staff but trade with sufficient teams."

Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, added that some businesses will continue to fight for survival for the next three years "at least" and said it was "imperative" that the government continued to support the sectors most affected by restrictions "to stave off a generation of unemployment and bankruptcy".

Peter Marks, chief executive of REKOM UK, the UK's largest nightclub operator with 47 clubs and bars, said he was "delighted" nightclubs would be reopening without restrictions.

The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said the lifting of restrictions would mean more than 2,000 pubs that had been forced to stay shut because they couldn't operate under social distancing and table service only restrictions could reopen. However, to ensure pub businesses fully recover, it urged the government to invest in the sector by reforming VAT, beer duty and business rates.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said: "The brewing and pub sector have a vital role to play in building back better in communities across the country. Investment in our sector will help drive the economic bounce back and aid the government with its levelling up agenda. We also urge the devolved administrations to now follow suit by removing restrictions and ensuring the recovery of the great British pub can start nationwide."

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of pub group Greene King, similarly urged the government to support the rebuilding of the sector with business rates and duty reform, as well as support tackling recruitment issues.

Shevaun Haviland, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, also welcomed the move but said businesses still did not have "the full picture" to allow them to plan.

She said: "Much remains in the balance, firms do not yet know the future of self-isolation rules, if testing will remain free for them, or when international travel will open up effectively.

"Without clear guidance for businesses around the new proposals, there could be real uncertainty on how they should operate going forward and what they should be doing to keep staff and their customers safe."

The Scottish government is aiming to further lift Covid restrictions on 9 August, while a review of the situation in Wales is due on 15 July. In Northern Ireland restrictions on live music in hospitality businesses and a cap on outdoor and indoor gatherings was lifted on 5 July.

Photo: Flickr - number10gov

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