Hospitality bosses have welcomed the end of social distancing in indoor settings after Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated last night that step 4 of the government’s ‘roadmap to recovery plan’ would be activated on 19 July.
This means that foodservice sites should be able to operate at full capacity from that date with no restrictions on groups of diners.
More than 2,000 pubs that had been forced to stay shut because they couldn’t operate under social distancing and table service-only restrictions are expected to reopen.
As part of a five-point plan Johnson revealed for living with Covid, Mr Johnson – who said the final decision would be made on 12 July – said: “We will change the basic tools we have used to control human behaviour. We will move away from legal restrictions and allow people to make their own informed decisions about how to manage the virus.
“From Step 4 we will remove all legal limits on the numbers meeting indoors and outdoors. We will allow more businesses to reopen, including nightclubs. We will end the one metre-plus rule on social distancing and the legal obligation to wear a face covering, although guidance will suggest where you might choose to do so, especially when cases are rising and when you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet in enclosed spaces.
“There will be no Covid certificate required as a condition of entry to any venue or event, although businesses and events can certainly make use of certification, and the NHS app gives you a Covid pass as one way to show your Covid status.”
UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the news would be “celebrated” by hospitality operators and their staff across the country.
“For the vast majority of hospitality businesses, 19 July – if confirmed next week – will be the first time in 16 months that they have been able to realistically look to break even and move towards profitability.
“This progress is testament to the constructive and positive work that we have undertaken with government, to pave the way for this timely handing over of responsibility, shifting from enforced legal requirements to an onus on personal and business responsibilities, to ensure that we continue to safeguard our staff and customers in the tried and tested ways we know work best.
“Hospitality businesses will continue to provide safe and enjoyable experiences as we move into the summer and beyond and, in doing so, will also safeguard jobs, livelihoods and the venues we cherish so much.
“In order to do so, venues will need autonomy to act according to their own risk assessments, without local authority gold-plating, and a workable test and trace system that doesn’t demand blanket self-isolation like the test to remain-style system, to ensure that we can both protect our staff but trade with sufficient teams.”
“It will still be a long road back for businesses that have been forced to take on debt just to survive, especially with the reintroduction of business rates payments. Nevertheless, this is a critical move that will unleash a sector that is eager to play its part in the wider national recovery, to repay the support afforded it by the government.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “After nearly 18 months of forced closure or operating under severe restrictions – which crippled the viability of pubs – 19 July should mark the beginning of the recovery for our sector in England.
“Over 2,000 pubs remained closed because they couldn’t viably operate with social distancing and table service only. Hopefully from 19 July, these pubs will be able to reopen. Covid, the lockdowns and restrictions have nearly destroyed our pubs. As they now get ready to reopen as normal once more, the recovery of our sector is only just beginning.
“Having been one of the worst hit sectors by lockdown, our pubs and brewers now need the government to invest in them by reforming VAT, beer duty and business rates to reduce the unfair tax burden they face and aid their recovery.”
Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said: “It’s been a difficult time for everybody but as we start to come out of this crisis and learn to live with the virus, we still need the government to support the rebuilding of the hospitality sector particularly with business rates and duty reform, as well as tackling the short term issues around recruitment after months of closure.
“We can’t wait to get back to doing what we do best and give our customers the great pub experience they so love and make the most of the remaining summer so we can start getting back to being a thriving industry. Only then can we rebuild and reinvest, supporting jobs and the wider UK economy when it is needed most.”
During last night’s press conference, Mr Johnson also revealed that the government will no longer be instructing people to work from home.
Prior to this, the first three steps in this year’s ‘roadmap to recovery plan’ had proceeded at their earliest possible dates, with outdoor dining permitted from 12 April and indoor hospitality venues able to open from 17 May, though still at reduced capacity due to social distancing.
However this last step had been delayed from an earliest date of 21 June as the Delta variant of Covid has been rapidly spreading and the government allowed additional time to get more vaccines into more arms.