Pubs and restaurants in England will be ordered to have a 10pm closing time from Thursday as part of new measures to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Hospitality venues will also be restricted by law to table service only.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will outline the steps in the House of Commons this morning before addressing the nation in a live broadcast at 8pm this evening.
Yesterday, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, warned there could be 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-October without intervention. The UK’s Covid-19 alert level moved to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.
UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said that the new restrictions were ‘another crushing blow’ for hospitality businesses struggling to recover, and that it was crucial the new rules are applied with flexibility.
She says: “A hard close time is bad for business and bad for controlling the virus – we need to allow time for people to disperse over a longer period. Table service has been widely adopted in some parts of the sector since reopening but it is not necessary across all businesses, such as coffee shops.
“It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when Government data shows that just 5% of infections out of the home are related to hospitality. Where such restrictions have been put in place locally they have not cut infection rates, merely damaged business and cost jobs.
“Most critically, Government needs to recognise this will damage confidence even further and it is now inevitable that the sector will struggle long into 2021. A new support package is now essential. We need to see an early signal that the VAT cut will be extended through to the end of 2021; that the business rates holiday will continue next year; and an enhanced employment support package specifically for hospitality.”
Pubs bosses have vehemently argued that the sector has already gone to extraordinary lengths to create safe environments, and say that data shows incidents in food, pub and restaurant settings are not the primary cause of increased infection.
Oakman Inns chairman Peter Borg-Neal said there were less than 34 cases reported across the entire pub and restaurant sector last week, based on Public Health England figures.
But ministers are understood to hope that enforcing an earlier closing time, along with the rule of six, will act as a warning to the public that efforts to curb the virus need to be stepped up.