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Hospitality shouldn't pay the price for government failings, operators say

21 September 2020 by
Hospitality shouldn't pay the price for government failings, operators say

Hospitality shouldn't be penalised unfairly to deflect from or compensate for failings in the government's response to the Covid-19 outbreak, operators have said.

Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to chair an emergency COBRA meeting today after it was revealed he would announce further restrictions including a 10pm curfew.

The industry had called on the government to provide evidence for any further measures put in place and asked ministers to consider the devastating impact a second period of closure would have on businesses.

Speaking ahead of yesterday evening's curfew announcement Simon Mitchell, chief executive of Kerb and Seven Dials Market in London, said: "We're getting a de facto lockdown by being terrified by scientists on TV, by being told we can't go out with more than six people, by whatever else comes this week… what we're getting is a lockdown without calling it a lockdown so the government don't need to support us anymore. That is what is going to kill hospitality.

"They've got to do something. Trust us to get on with it, police it as you normally would – if people aren't following [the rules], fine them. If restaurants aren't following them, close them.

"But we shouldn't be asked for a two-week pause just so the government can sort out the track and trace, they've had all summer. We need to stand up for ourselves."

On Monday Peter Borg-Neal, chairman of Oakman Inns, challenged health secretary Matt Hancock over claims made on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, in which he said: "We know that the vast majority of transmission happens in social settings, whether that's in hospitality or in people's own homes."

Borg-Neal highlighted Public Health England figures showing that care homes continue to be the primary source of outbreaks followed by education and workplace settings.

The pub operator, who hasn't had a single reported case of Covid-19 in his venues despite welcoming one and a half million unique guests since 4 July, said: "Given those statistics how is the best way forward to close hospitality?

"They need to stop trying to deflect their failings on to the hospitality industry. It's government that has failed to protect people in care homes. That has failed on what they said would be ‘a world class track and trace' system, that has talked about testing but failed to deliver it. It's a mess.

"Lockdown is not just a lack of sales, it's a hit to consumer confidence. It will be potentially disastrous and that would be just about acceptable if there was a proven public health benefit, but there's not because people are not catching it in 99% of licensed premises."

The government's chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, and chief medical officer for England, professor Chris Whitty had reported increases in cases were being seen across the country and across age groups. Professor Whitty said the country faced a six-month challenge that had to be taken "collectively very seriously" but added that economic considerations should be taken into account.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: "It is vital that any restrictions, which will inevitably have a knock-on effect on jobs, are guided by evidence. We have urged government to share more data so the sector can more proactively support the fight against the disease.

"Another lockdown would be incredibly difficult for a sector which is, in most cases, only just getting back to its feet. It would be an outright disaster for some businesses. Local curfews would be easier to swallow but they would still hit businesses hard. Even a relatively minor change like closing at 10pm as opposed to 11pm puts a significant dent into a business. A two-week full closure of the sector would mean a hit of £1.6-2b in lost sales per week. This is huge."

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