Prime minister Boris Johnson has defended his decision to impose a 10pm curfew on hospitality businesses in England, blaming late-night drinking for the rise in coronavirus cases.
Speaking in the House of Commons today he said: "Nobody wants to be curtailing the right of restaurants and other businesses to go about their lawful business. What we've seen from the evidence is that, alas, the spread of the disease does tend to happen later at night after more alcohol has been consumed. This is one way that we see of driving down the R [rate] without doing excessive economic damage."
He made the comments following his announcement confirming the curfew and table service restrictions on hospitality businesses as well as advising people to once again work from home if possible, hitting the brakes on restarting events, and making face masks compulsory indoors.
Sector leaders have lamented the curfew introduction, with Martin Greenhow, managing director at MOJO which has five bars in Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Harrogate, describing it as "unjust and punitive, not to mention illogical and irrational".
He said: "Are people more infectious after 10pm? Hospitality has slaved to work responsibly within the constraints laid out for us and now we are being thrown aside with scant concern for the impact these measures will have on our businesses and the wider economy."
London's night czar Amy Lamé said yesterday on Twitter: "There's nothing magic about 10pm. The virus doesn't care what time it is. What we need is a fully functioning testing system and a fully functioning contact tracing system."
Gregory Marchand, chef-owner of Frenchie in London's Covent Garden said his business relies heavily on bookings made around and after 8pm. Stuart Procter, chief operating officer of the Stafford Collection, said 19% of the group's reservations are made for dinner post-9pm.
He said: "This is a huge chunk of business which will now disappear for no good reason, does the virus only come out post 10pm? As an industry, we had just started to claw our way back from a catastrophic start to 2020, but this will be the nail in the coffin for so many in the hospitality and tourism sector."
Des Gunewardena, chief executive and co-founder of D&D London, said weekend business in the later evening had helped mitigate the impact of more challenging early and midweek business which had already been hit by the absence of office workers and tourists.
He added: "Quite feasibly the health situation could actually get worse if after 10pm people left Covid-safe environments in restaurants and bars in order to continue to socialise in each other's homes."