Hospitality leaders have reacted with dismay to the prime minister saying yesterday that the hospitality sector will be one of the last to reopen as venues have "extra risk of transmission".
They have said there is "no evidence" for this and that Boris Johnson should retract his comments.
The Telegraph reported that, when asked about the reopening of hospitality, Boris Johnson said: "You have to remember from last year that we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things that we did because there is obviously an extra risk of transmission from hospitality."
This is despite a UKHospitality-commissioned CGA report published yesterday which said that hospitality venues were not significant areas of Covid transmission in 2020 and that the sector should be next in line after priority sectors such as schools, essential retail and outdoor sports to reopen.
Data for the weeks 9 July to 19 September, by far the busiest period for hospitality since the pandemic began, showed an average of just 5.2% of infections could be linked to ‘food outlet/restaurant' settings. And both the director of public health at Sheffield City Council and director of health and care at Staffordshire County Council told a Parliamentary committee last month that the sector was not seen as presenting a huge risk to the spread of infections.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said on Twitter there was "simply no evidence to justify this" and that businesses served 60 million customers a week while open last year "with no increase in infections".
Laura Christie, co-founder of Oklava, said: "I'd like to see the government put forth a schedule of reopening without falsely painting hospitality as the most risky so it has to be last. The truth is it's last because that's more politically palatable than being seen to prioritise pubs over schools or other sectors.
"Most will accept we cannot throw the doors open to absolutely everything at once and a cautious staged reopening is best to ensure this really is the last lockdown.
"It's right to prioritise education but that certainly doesn't make it the safest sector to reopen, just the right one for society. We do not, however, have to damage public confidence in all other sectors to justify who comes first and doing so will certainly not allow us to ‘bounce back better'.
"Provide the right support to businesses down the chain of opening (which needs to be considerably more than is currently offered, and quicker down the line with councils taking months to distribute funds). Stop pitching industries against each other and making baseless claims regarding safety to justify political decisions that only further damage a sector on its knees."
Andy Lennox, owner of Zim Braai restaurants, added: "Sadly, this is simply not true – there is no evidence to show that there is a extra risk of transmission. UK hospitality opened last year safely and with some of the most robust Covid-19 measures in the world. For Mr Johnson to come out with a comment like that based on no fact or evidence is ludicrous. He should retract it."
Hoteliers in Bristol were also angered by the prime minister's statement. Bristol Hoteliers Association chair Raphael Herzog said: "We've always been among the first businesses to close and the last to be allowed to re-open.
"All we are asking is to be treated fairly, and in the same way as non-essential shops. We do not want to see unhelpful restrictions like a 10pm curfew, only being allowed to serve alcohol with substantial meals and a confusing tier system.
"We need a clear roadmap, a clear strategy, a commitment to providing us with more support, and we need to be treated fairly."
Alex Reilley, Loungers chairman and co-founder, called on Twitter for Johnson to "immediately retract this statement and apologise" and said that it was "simply not true".
Johnson is due to announce the country's 'reopening roadmap' on Monday (22 February).