Both operators and trade body representatives say the measures, which include restricting restaurants and pubs in Tier 3 areas to takeaway only, disproportionately hit hospitality businesses without any substantiated scientific reasoning.
Many have called on ministers to reconsider this approach.
Yesterday afternoon (23 November), Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined plans for a tightened tier system that will come into force across England next Wednesday (2 December), replacing the current national lockdown.
Confirming what many had already feared that additional measures would be imposed upon businesses in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas post-lockdown, Johnson announced that hospitality venues in Tier 3 areas will have to remain locked down and only be allowed to offer takeaways under the new rules, while those in Tier 2 will only be able to serve alcohol with 'substantial meals'.
Previously, restaurants in Tier 3 were able to continue operating an indoor service, as were pubs and bars providing they served a 'substantial meal'; in Tier 2 businesses were able to continue operating as normal, subject to national restrictions, but trade was severely impacted by restrictions on households being able to mix in indoor settings.
In what could be best described as a pyrrhic victory for the sector, Johnson also confirmed that the 10pm curfew will be extended by an hour, meaning hospitality venues in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas will be able to take orders up until 10pm and then be ordered to close by 11pm.
The Government will set out which areas will go into which tier on Thursday (26 November), but the Prime Minister did warn that many areas are likely to be moved into a higher tier than they were in before.
Restrictions ‘will destroy our sector’
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), has called on the Government to provide the evidence behind its decision specifically to single out pubs.
“The additional restrictions will destroy our sector if they go ahead as proposed,” she says.
“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 Tier 2 and 3.
“We’re calling on the Government to provide the evidence behind its decision to single out pubs.”
McClarkin cites various studies and figures that demonstrate how low the level of transmission is in hospitality settings.
They include publicly available evidence from Public Health England, which shows that hospitality has been linked to just 1% of total infections (see below).
She also notes a recent poll carried out by YouGov on behalf of the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking that revealed people find pubs amongst the easiest places to adhere to social distancing when compared to other venues and socialising within other people’s homes.
“We are genuinely concerned the decision announced today has not taken this evidence into account,” says McClarkin.
“Pubs are Covid-secure; following all Government guidelines; serving to tables; enforcing social distancing; and working hand in hand with NHS test and trace.
“If these tighter tier restrictions are forced upon us, far more Government financial support will be needed to avoid the resulting carnage.
“In Tier 2 alone, the new restrictions will mean 90% of pubs will be unviable and will only be able to operate at a loss. In Tier 3, no pub is viable if restricted to takeaway only.
“This will also mean our brewing businesses will be hugely damaged too.”
A demand for evidence
James Calder, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers, echoes McClarkin’s call for financial support, and has demanded to know what evidence justifies the Government’s decision to tighten restrictions on hospitality while loosening those placed on other sectors such as retail.
“[Yesterday’s] announcement is a sucker punch for the independent brewing industry,” he says.
“The tougher restrictions being imposed on pubs at Tier 2 and Tier 3 mean that trade will be a trickle of what businesses need to survive the critical Christmas period.
“Wet-led pubs, by definition, cannot offer a substantial meal."
Calder accuses the Government of yet again failing to provide evidence to justify why tougher restrictions for hospitality are needed when operators have already worked to make their venues Covid secure.
“What evidence justifies a tightening on us, when retail is loosened," he asks.
"Why is Tier 3 an equivalent to national lockdown for us, but not for others; what evidence justifies this when we know pubs are safe and the UK’s citizens want to socialise safely?
"Small breweries have lost the vast majority of their sales with the closure of pubs and now they have little hope for the Christmas period. Throughout the initial tier system and second national lockdown we were seeing increasing numbers of breweries close for good.
"Without immediate Government support including business rates holidays, direct grants and compensation for spoilt beer, many more will follow.”
Greene King CEO Nick Mackenzie, who oversees an estate that includes almost 1,700 managed pubs and 1,000 tenanted venues, says he’s frustrated at the industry having to pick itself off the floor after ‘another crushing blow’.
With the pub sector having invested millions in ensuring sites were Covid-secure, he adds that the latest announcement feels like pubs have been unfairly singled out with increased restrictions that will make pubs across the country unviable through the most important month of the year.
“Pubs play a key role in combatting loneliness and isolation and we have followed all the government’s requirements to ensure our pubs are well-regulated and Covid-secure environments for friends and families to stay connected as we approach Christmas,” he says.
“Safety is paramount, but restrictions must be proportionate and not put hundreds of thousands of people’s jobs at risk across the hospitality industry.
“We ask the Government to reconsider disproportionate measures, such as banning the sale of alcohol in Tier 2 unless it’s with a substantial meal, and work constructively with the hospitality sector to find solutions that not only protect lives but also protect livelihoods through to next spring.”
Like Mackenzie, Night Time Industries Authority (NTIA) CEO Michael Kill says the new restrictions ‘disproportionately and unfairly’ target the night-time economy and hospitality sectors, despite there being ‘no substantiated scientific evidence’ that they will suppress transmission.
He also cites PHE data, which shows that high levels of transmissions occur predominantly within households, care homes, workplaces and education.
As reported by BigHospitality last week, PHE’s latest figures show that hospitality venues made up just 4.1% of Coronavirus exposure ‘common locations’ for the first two weeks of November.
The statistics, which drew on the analysis of the track and trace data of 128,808 people who’d reported they tested positive for the virus between 9 November and 15 November, showed that visits to pubs and bars made up only 1.6% of all common transmission locations reported.
“The industry has been left angry and frustrated by the new restrictions set out by the Prime Minister,” says Kill.
“This shows a complete lack of consideration and understanding of our sector. It will have a catastrophic impact on thousands of businesses and jobs across the sector by the end of the year.
“For many business owners this is beyond ignorance; it is tantamount to systematically culling our industry with intent."
Kill accuses ministers of appalling misjudgement, saying the Government has simply got the restrictions wrong.
“Our sector has worked incredibly hard alongside Government departments, to ensure that our businesses are Covid safe, only to be hit again with unworkable restrictions that have no evidence base," he continues.
“We are being condemned to an excruciating financial hardship, until the Government can rally around a workable vaccine solution.
“The support from furlough is welcome. However, sadly many of these businesses will not survive to retain their staff and will suffer from a continuation of current extreme problems around cash fluidity, commercial rent debt and exit strategy.”