The government has announced that millions are to face tougher restrictions starting next week in a desperate attempt to combat the resurgence of COVID-19. Some members of the government’s scientific advisory body SAGE have already begun to talk about the possibility of a new national lockdown, while the proposed new tiered local restrictions are aiming to prevent this from becoming a reality. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has himself stated that if these new measures fail, he might be forced to introduce a ‘catastrophic’ new national lockdown. This alarm has been prompted by a rise of cases across the UK, with Wales, parts of Northern England, and Scotland all seeing a worrying spike in infections. Hospitalisations in the Northwest are now estimated to be doubling approximately every fortnight, while confirmed cases are hitting new highs with the ONS estimating 1 in 240 are infected in England. What does this all mean for businesses and the public?
For those in Scotland the government has taken the drastic step of closing all pubs and restaurants in central Scotland (including Glasgow and Edinburgh) until at least the 25th of October. This measure has been bolstered by a brace of other restrictions, such as contact sport for those under 18 being suspended, and outdoor live events also not being permitted for the next fortnight. It has often been the case throughout the pandemic that Scotland has adopted more cautious measures, and England enacts similar safeguards later down the line. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has stated these measures are intended to be “short, sharp action to arrest a worrying increase in infection”.
Under the highest tier of the new three-tiered Coronavirus restrictions, the North of England will likely see pubs, restaurants and leisure facilities closed in a similar move. This will likely be accompanied by firm restrictions on social contact, with individuals being limited to contact only with their own household, regardless of setting, Sky News reports. A ban on overnight stays away from home have also been proposed. This is a tightening of the rules currently in place in the worst hit cities such as Newcastle and Liverpool where people can meet other households outdoors, but not in their garden or a pub garden. The exact details of each tier at this point remains speculation, but it is likely that tier one, the lightest tier will simply involve maintaining social distancing and keeping to the rule of six, meaning that some areas of the country may not notice much of a difference.
Enforcement of these new measures is naturally a thorny topic, as several fines for rule breaches have been increased. £30 million in funding has now been released to local councils so they can hire Covid marshals, to ensure the public and businesses are adhering to the new restrictions. A further £30 million will bolster police forces in England and Wales. Covid marshals will not have any formal powers to enforce the law, but instead will advise on how to be compliant. They will be allowed to engage in door knocking, but they will not be allowed to enter premises. This does raise some questions about how effective they will be, but government sources state that they will be able to escalate serious breaches to the police rapidly.
Beyond the question of enforcement, the new rules leave many struggling businesses frustrated and anxious about the future. It has been announced that businesses which are forced to close will receive additional state funding, but in the case of Scotland industry leaders have warned a pub shut down could cost thousands of jobs, despite the £40 million in relief currently on the table. It is likely similar measures in England would also damage an already struggling industry and tentative recovery. Rishi Sunak is set to outline the next stage of the Job Support Scheme which will include help for firms that are forced to close.
However, it has been noted that the current configuration of the Job Support Scheme favours paying one full time worker over two part time ones. The promise of new funding is also cold comfort to nightclubs and live music venues which still see no pathway to reopening in sight. The 10PM curfew remains a bone of contention in addition, as Labour continues to demand that the government release the evidence that later pub opening hours were significantly contributing to infection rates. Local mayors and council leaders have also expressed their frustration that new measures are being imposed without consultation.
Much remains uncertain, and there is no guarantee that the current measures will curb the spread of infections. The figures themselves have been called into question, both by the fact that testing has increased, and by PHE’s Excel based error which has distorted the daily counts. For businesses, adaptability and flexibility will be key in the coming months. One way to ensure this is to diversify the payment methods your business accepts, including online payments and card payments. To find out more about our great range of options to do this, click here.