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New coronavirus restrictions come into effect in the north-east of England today, banning households from mixing socially. Millions of people across Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham are no longer allowed to socialise with people outside their household in restaurants, pubs, gardens or private homes. Those who break the new law could face a fine of up to £6,400.
However, the stricter measures have been met with confusion. Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised on Twitter yesterday after wrongly saying the new rules do not apply to gatherings outdoors. The comments followed education minister Gillian Keegan saying she was unable to answer the question of whether households would be able to meet in a pub or restaurant garden.
Meanwhile, council leaders across Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, where measures around mixing in public spaces are only guidance rather than law, warned in a joint letter that the hospitality sectors in their cities face “a complete decimation in trade” under the new Covid-19 rules.
Together, they warned that the guidance is “contradictory and confusing”, and called on the government to review the 10pm curfew and to make advice about households mixing in indoor venues a legal requirement and to compensate businesses that are affected.
Writing to health secretary Matt Hancock and business secretary Alok Sharma, they said: “The stark reality is that these businesses are facing the prospect of a complete decimation in trade, not just in the short term but as we look ahead to the sector’s traditional lifeblood of the Christmas period and almost certainly continuing into spring/summer of next year which we know with certainty will result in mass market failure, huge levels of redundancies and depleted and boarded up high streets.”
Last week, it was revealed that nearly a quarter of hospitality businesses are at risk of failing by the end of the year without further government support. The findings, from a survey of members across the British Beer & Pub Association, UKHospitality and the British Institute of Innkeeping, came in before the latest restrictions for pubs and restaurants were announced, including the 10pm curfew.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, called for an extension to the furlough scheme and business rates relief, plus continuation of the VAT cut to food and soft drinks and a “significant cut to the UK’s excessively high beer duty”.
“The future of the sector is still very much in the balance,” said Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality. “Many venues have still have not reopened and those that have are operating at reduced capacity and a fraction of normal revenue. We have already had some high-profile casualties and far too many job losses.
“We need comprehensive financial support so that those businesses that survive the winter can begin to rebuild next year.”
The impact the tighter rules will have on the retail sector remains to be seen, yet the increased restrictions on the hospitality industry will no doubt ripple out to the wider supply chain.
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