Last call? Coronavirus curfews and the future of Pubs
The pub is a British institution, and the heart of communities across the country. It has also become the source of much controversy in the Coronavirus era as a place where inebriation and social distancing may not mix. Recently imposed restrictions which came into effect last Friday now state that pubs must close at 10PM, in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. However, this noble aim has been called into question by scenes of packed crowds across English cities at closing time, dispersing into off licences, public transport, and the streets themselves. This has made many question the wisdom of a blanket curfew, especially while off licences remain open. Manchester’s Labour Mayor Andy Burnham has called for off licences and supermarkets to stop selling alcohol after 9PM, to prevent repeats of this weekend’s scenes.
Is doubling down on curfews the right course of action, however? Public Health England’s own statistics show that pubs and restaurants were responsible for less than 3% of infections in the week before curfews were announced. Schools, colleges, and care homes contributed over two-thirds of new cases by contrast. At face value it does seems somewhat disproportionate to focus on the hospitality sector which has already been gutted by lockdown, and single it out for further restrictions.
A rebuttal could be made that pubs and restaurants are not essential, whereas education and care homes are necessities, and furthermore it is necessary that some liberties must be sacrificed for the greater good. It is also the case that the 3% figure may be somewhat deceptive as locating the origin of a Coronavirus infection requires accurate data from Track and Trace, which is more closely monitored in schools and care homes. Boris Johnson claims that curfews are a necessary measure to curb the R rate without causing significant damage to the economy.
This is cold comfort for the hospitality sector however, which millions rely on for their livelihoods. As the end of furlough looms on the 31st of October, already struggling pubs may sink forever under the weight of new Coronavirus restrictions without increase governmental support. One in four licensed venues remained shut at the end of August independent reports reveal. Meanwhile with reduced competition and strong appetite, some pubs have started to make a tentative return to profitability with increased safety measures. These new restrictions jeopardise this precarious recovery and endanger jobs as the furlough scheme is replaced by job support scheme.
The criteria of the job support scheme is that a ‘viable job’ means the employee must be able to work a third of their normal hours to be eligible. With shorter opening hours, and many pubs choosing not to open fully until the situation is more stable, this means that bar staff may slip through the net, either because they don’t have enough hours or because their place of work is not yet open.
The scientific evidence supporting the curfew also remains patchy at best. Unlike other measures the government have enacted which have received near unanimous backing from the scientific community, curfews have been described as having “no proven scientific basis” by Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University. Boris Johnson however states that there is evidence that the infection is spread later at night as more alcohol is consumed, and pub-goers are less likely to adhere to social distancing rules.
This evidence does not seem to be publicly available however – it is possible Boris Johnson was referring to a report by SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) the scientific advisory board to the government from the 20th of August which stated that alcohol at football matches encourages hugging and close contact. This however is not directly applicable to a pub setting, where social distancing, facemasks, and other measures such as table service are already in place. This has led to a cross-party group of MPs headed by Lib Dem Daisy Cooper to call upon the government to publish the relevant scientific evidence to prove this is not an arbitrary measure.
There has been widespread criticism that the curfew is doing more harm than good, both to the economy and to the safety of the public as without staggered closing times large crowds are placed in close proximity. An open letter to the Prime Minister signed by over 100 of the UK’s largest hospitality firms has urged that the curfew be reviewed on a three-week basis and should be scrapped if found to be ineffective. JD Wetherspoons and Burger King have added their weight to this plea, stating that half of the UK’s 100,000 hospitality firms were already fearing they may not survive beyond the middle of 2021, and that was prior to the introduction of curfews.
The future of pubs, curfews, and the course of the Coronavirus all remains uncertain. Businesses can mitigate risk by ensuring they diversify the number of ways they do business and take payment – whether online or via a card machine, check out our great range of payment solutions and ensure your business doesn’t miss out on potential sales.