Minister shuns suggestions of shutting restaurants and pubs as ‘trade-off’ to reopen schools

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Government Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick shuns shutting restaurants and pubs as ‘trade-off’ to reopen schools SAGE

Related tags: Government, Coronavirus

The Housing Secretary has quelled speculation that restaurants and pubs could be ordered to close again as part of a ‘trade-off’ to allow children to return to classrooms in September.

Appearing yesterday (2 August) on Times Radio, ​Robert Jenrick was asked what steps the Government was considering to keep the rate of infection (R level) low enough to ensure it is safe for schools to reopen after the summer, including whether pubs and restaurants could be closed again.

In response he said: "We don't want to do anything that is a blanket approach across the country. 

"Our strategy is to manage this in a localised way with targeted action as we’ve done in Leicester, as we’re doing now in the North West."

Pressed further on whether the Government would close pubs and restaurants again if it has to, Jenrick added: "We don't have any plans to do that."

It comes after Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme​ this weekend that restrictions of other activities may be needed to allow schools to reopen as planned.

Medley said that most people would prioritise the health and wellbeing of children over going to the pub.

"We're in a situation whereby most people think opening schools is a priority for the health and wellbeing of children and when we do that, we are going to reconnect lots of households,” he said.

"And so actually, closing some of the other networks, some of the other activities may well be required to enable us to open schools.

"It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other, and then that's a matter of prioritising. Do we think pubs are more important than schools?"

While Jenrick acknowledged that schools would be a priority in the event of such dilemmas, he continued that fresh restrictions were unlikely to be applied wholesale.

“We will follow the data and look at options if we have to but that approach is the way we restrict in certain areas – it is difficult for those who live there but it provides greater freedom for the rest of the country, for businesses to reopen and for people to get on with their daily lives, and that has to be the way forward if we can,” he said.

Under new Coronavirus restrictions announced late last week, people from across the whole of Greater Manchester, as well as parts of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire, were told they could no longer meet people from another household indoors, including in restaurants and pubs.

The sudden changes led to a number operators in the area receiving a flurry of booking cancellations​.

Elnecot, a restaurant in Manchester’s Ancoats area, said it had had over 100 cancellations for the weekend just gone (1/2 August).

Responding to Professor Medley's comments, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “Professor Medley’s comments received a lot of coverage but there has been no signal from Government linking pubs and the reopening of schools, only a reassurance from Robert Jenrick that there are no such plans.

"This is not an either/or situation and the Government is well aware of the substantial financial and economic impacts a re-closing of venues would incur, inevitably resulting in permanent closures and significant job losses.”

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