COVID-19: Anger amid reports end of lockdown will be delayed – with social distancing remaining in pubs

The government is being urged to remove all restrictions on hospitality businesses on 21 June, as reports suggest that the final stage of England’s roadmap out of lockdown could be delayed by two weeks.

The British Beer & Pub Association has warned that thousands of pubs “could still be lost forever”, even though indoor service returned on 17 May.

Figures suggest that pubs suffered a 20% fall in trade in the first week after reopening compared with the same period before the pandemic – and if this continues, the average venue could lose £94,000 in turnover a year.

The four stages of England's lockdown lifting
The four stages of England’s lockdown lifting

This would mean that the typical pub would need to sell close to 25,000 additional pints over a 12-month period to make over the shortfall.

At present, pubs are required to ensure social distancing of at least one metre is in place. Businesses can also only operate with table service, and group sizes indoors are limited to six people.

All legal limits on social contact are due to be lifted on 21 June, but concerns about this milestone have been raised – with official data for England showing that COVID-19 cases in the community rose by 76.5% in one week.

The Office for National Statistics has estimated that 85,600 people in the country had COVID-19 in the week to 29 May, the highest level since mid-April.

According to the i newspaper, social distancing in bars and restaurants is likely to remain – meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph says the final stage of Boris Johnson’s roadmap could be pushed back to 5 July.

This delay would be used to accelerate second jabs for the over-40s, with those aged over 25 to be offered their first doses from next week.

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Lifting restrictions is ‘business critical’

The Financial Times has also reported that contingency plans are being drawn up to delay the fourth and final stage of restrictions easing if data suggests it is necessary.

A source told the newspaper: “Irreversibility is key to this. The prime minister doesn’t want to go backwards, so if it’s a choice of more measures in the future, I think he can stomach a minor delay.”

The hospitality sector has reacted with alarm to these reports.

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Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “Sorry but leaving social distancing in place in pubs, restaurants, hotels and attractions means that 21 June is not freedom date at all.

“It means that those businesses continue to operate at a loss and threatens the long-term viability of businesses, jobs and the recovery.”

Sacha Lord, night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, said he was “up for a fight” over the possible shift, adding: “Hospitality is the fifth biggest industry in the UK – 21 June is make or break for many.”

And the British Beer & Pub Association said venues will need more financial support for the government if restrictions aren’t eased on this date as planned.

Wales First Minister Mark Drakeford has already said he is considering keeping social distancing rules for the rest of this year, describing them as “one of the strongest defences that we have” against the virus.

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2 June: PM urges caution over lockdown easing

No 10 sources have said suggestions of a delay to the roadmap are “speculation” and the prime minister has previously said there is “nothing in the data at the moment” that would prevent the country taking the next step.

Yesterday, the UK recorded 6,238 new confirmed coronavirus cases – the highest level since late March.

The increase has been fuelled by the spread of the Indian variant, also known as the Delta variant.

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