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Industry welcomes lifting of social distancing measures

Published:  13 July, 2021

The industry has welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s confirmation that social distancing measures will be lifted next week, a move that UK Hospitality (UKH) said would bring “huge relief” for the hospitality sector.

In the Prime Minister’s Step 4 announcement, made yesterday afternoon, he confirmed most remaining Covid laws in England will be lifted on 19 July, including limits on how many people can meet, with the 1m-plus distancing rule also being removed. in addition, it will be the end of table service only.

However, Johnson added, businesses would now be “expected” to apply new guidelines to control the disease, saying he wanted to scrap “government by diktat”, passing responsibility to businesses, other public bodies and individuals to try to contain the epidemic. 

These include “high-risk” venues, such as nightclubs, being expected to require customers to show they have received both vaccinations or proof of a negative test within the past 48 hours. 

Additionally, Johnson said the test and trace system would remain in place. 

When asked how restrictions would be reviewed after the 19 July, and whether they could be reimposed, Johnson said all data would be kept under constant review for the rest of the year “probably into next year too”, and that he could not guarantee that restrictions would not be reimposed.

Confirmation that social distancing measures would be lifted as per the roadmap brought “huge relief” for hospitality venues hoping to finally head back towards normal trading in England, said Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKH.

“A week from now, for the first time in 16 months they will be able to move towards profitability, which is vital for the future of a sector beset by Covid-related debts,” she said. 

For profitability to be reached as soon as possible, it was “vital” that businesses were able to reach their own solutions, to “suit their settings, satisfy their risk assessments and optimise implementation costs while ensuring safety”, she added.

“The voluntary nature of the government guidance should ensure that this is achievable.”

British Beer & Pub Association CEO Emma McClarkin meanwhile said that, after almost 18 months of closure or heavy restrictions, ‘Freedom Day’ on 19 July was a “huge “milestone.

“We anticipate some 2,000 more pubs could reopen from 19 July. These are pubs that were unable to reopen and operate viably because of the restrictions. The recovery of our sector is just beginning, with the past 18 months practically being written off for them,” she said. 

McClarkin also reiterated the need for the government to invest in the sector by reforming VAT, beer duty and business rates to reduce the “unfair tax burden they face and aid their recovery”.

The Prime Minister also announced that guidance would be published shortly for businesses on the gradual return to work, noting that while the guidance to work from home would be dropped, he did not expect the entire country to return to offices next week.

Wales is due to review its restrictions on 15 July, while Scotland is expected to move to Level 0 - the lowest level of restrictions in its roadmap - on 19 July and lift most legal restrictions on 9 August. Northern Ireland is due to ease some Covid measures on 26 July.