England will return to a tiered system after 2 December – but measures will be toughened, the Prime Minister has announced.
Speaking to the Commons remotely, as he is currently self-isolating, Mr Johnson confirmed the hospitality industry’s worst fears by revealing that hospitality businesses in areas most affected by coronavirus will not be allowed to reopen for dine-in service.
Unlike previous arrangements, tiers will be a uniform set of rules without any regional negotiations.
In Tier 3, indoor entertainment, hotels and all forms of hospitality will close except for delivery and takeaways.
“I am very sorry, obviously, for the unavoidable hardship that this will cause for business owners who have already endured so much disruption this year,” said Mr Johnson.
Pubs and restaurants in Tier 2 areas, meanwhile, will only be able to serve alcohol if it is served with “substantial” meals.
Mr Johnson said: “Without sensible precautions we would risk the virus escalating into a winter or New Year surge. The incidence of the diseases is, alas, still widespread in many areas, so we are not going to replace national measures with a free for all and a status quo anti-Covid, we are going to go back instead to a regional tiered approach, applying the toughest measures where Covid is most prevalent.”
One piece of good news was that the 10pm curfew for pubs and bars will end. In Tiers 1 and 2, last orders will be at 10pm and places should close at 11pm.
Mr Johnson said the scientific advice was that the tiered system needed to be made tougher as the R number had still not fallen below one.
Non-essential shops, gyms, leisure facilities and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen across England when lockdown ends – weddings will also be allowed.
Foodservice operators now face an anxious couple of days before finding out which tier they find themselves in. Mr Johnson said he hoped to announce which tiers areas will fall into on Thursday.
He added: “I am sorry to say we expect that more regions will fall, at least temporarily, into higher levels than before but by using these tougher tiers, and by using rapid turnaround tests on an ever greater scale, to drive R below one and keep it there, it should be possible for areas to move down the tiering scale to lower levels of restrictions.”
The British Institute of Innkeeping was among the first to react to the measures. It said that the restructuring of the tiering system means that huge swathes of pubs across the country will now be faced with a crippling level of reduced trade.
CEO Steven Alton said: “Pubs have been placed in an impossible situation, where the mixing of households indoors will again only be possible in Tier 1 areas, and those in Tier 2 will now have to provide a substantial meal to allow them to serve alcohol.
“The Rule of Six will only apply outdoors as before in Tier 2 and Tier 3 businesses cannot open at all, except to provide a takeaway service.
“With such a reduction in footfall for our venues, profitability will be wiped out in the month where so many pubs rely on higher incomes to see them through the winter and into the spring. These tougher restrictions mean that despite furlough continuing until March, thousands of businesses will be left unable to survive until they are allowed to reopen and trade more freely or provided with realistic levels of business support.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the pub sector has been “singled out” by the new measures.
“The additional restrictions will destroy our sector if they go ahead as proposed, whilst the review of curfew is overdue the relaxation of the 10pm curfew is meaningless if most pubs are rendered unviable or forced to close under tiers two and three.”
McClarkin said the publicly available evidence from Public Health England shows that hospitality has been linked to just 1% of total infections.
Its own survey of members with 22,500 venues across the UK, meanwhile, found just 1% had been linked by NHS test and trace to a Covid incidence.
“We are genuinely concerned the decision announced today has not taken this evidence into account. Pubs are Covid-secure, following all government guidelines, serving to tables, enforcing social distancing and working hand in hand with NHS test and trace,” she said.