Boris Johnson said in a statement to the House of Commons earlier today (19 January) that work from home guidance and the mandatory wearing of face-masks would also go when the restrictions are lifted and the country reverts to Plan A next Thursday (27 January).
Hospitality trade bodies have welcomed the announcement, but also warned the Government not to underestimate the severity these measures have had on trade during the festive period and into the new year, amid a renewed call for current lower 12.5% rate of VAT for the industry to be extended beyond the end of the financial year.
UKHospitality says the removal of Plan B is a key milestone on the road to recovery for the sector.
“This is fantastic news for the hospitality sector, after the critical Christmas trade was laid to waste for the second year running," says Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality.
"Lifting the working from home recommendation is a particularly important move as it enables town and city centres, and the businesses that are their lifeblood, to begin their revival and recovery. These businesses will be eagerly looking forward to welcoming their customers back over the coming days and weeks."
Johnson told the Commons cases were falling and the Omicron wave had likely peaked nationally, meaning rules could now be eased.
Use of the NHS Covid Pass for access to large venues will no longer be mandatory, although organisations can choose to continue using them voluntarily.
The Night Time Industries Association, which represents some 1,400 independent bars, clubs and live music venues across the UK and has long been staunchly against the use of mandatory 'vaccine passports', says today's announcement means businesses are finally able to plan for the future.
“We welcome the removal of the restrictions for the night time economy and hospitality sector,” says Michael Kill, CEO of the NTIA.
“Following an extremely difficult two years for the night time economy and hospitality sector, which has been, in every sense, at the sharpest end of the pandemic throughout, we are finally able to plan for the future with some level of certainty and without debilitating restrictions.”
More support needed
The British Beer & Pub Association echoes the NTIA's comments.
“The announcement from the Prime Minister today to remove all Plan B restrictions when they expire on 26 January is extremely good news for our pubs and brewers," says Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA.
However, both trade bodies have warned that businesses will need further financial support beyond the grants already announced if they are to recover from the hit to trade caused by Plan B measures.
“With the devastating losses over the festive period, and the effects of limited cash flow being felt across the sector, our industry has been placed in an extremely fragile state, and without question will need further financial relief and support to survive,” says Kill.
“Experts believe it will take several years for the hospitality and night time economy sectors to recover, but it is important that the Government don’t simply assume the sector will be fine because restrictions have been eased. More support will be needed.”
McClarkin has urged the Government to act now and extend the current lower level of VAT for food and beverages sold in pubs, with a view to making this permanent.
She has also called for the implementation of Alcohol Duty Reform proposals, and introduce business rates reform that reduces the disproportionate burden paid by pubs and levels the playing field with online businesses.
Additionally, she says it is vital the Government now lays out its plan for living with Covid as an endemic disease.
"This will enable the sector to plan for a strong and sustainable recovery.
"After yet another setback and numerous false dawns, now is the time to support the sector for the long term with measures that will enable pubs and brewers to thrive as the heartbeats of our local communities and economies.
While no final decision has been made, Johnson confirmed his intention to end self-isolation rules for people with coronavirus in the coming weeks. The legal requirement would lapse when the regulations expire on 24 March, he said, and that date could be brought forward.