Furious hospitality chiefs are begging for urgent clarity from Boris Johnson on what ‘damaging’ Covid restrictions will be imposed after December 25.
The Prime Minister is planning to announce new curbs between Christmas and New Year as the Omicron variant plunges the country further into crisis.
But current restrictions and Covid fears have driven people away from city centres. Last night, London’s party capital Soho was so quiet last night that pubs and restaurants shut by 10pm. At the weekend, pubs, restaurants and bars suffered a 40 per cent slump in sales, while Greene King said some of its sites were down 80 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.
And in a further blow to the ‘devastated’ hospitality sector, around 6million adults in the UK are planning to bring in the New Year at home over Zoom.
Economists have now estimated that restrictions in place across the UK have already cost the hospitality and retail sectors £2.7billion this month.
An analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research has found that bars and nightclubs would lose £450million in earnings on New Year’s Eve alone if they are forced to close, while Government limits on family events on December 31 could take a further £100million out of the economy.
Last night, hospitality leaders in Wales reacted with fury to Mark Drakeford’s punitive Boxing Day restrictions.
David Chapman, executive director of the UKHospitality Cymru organisation, said the curbs will ‘virtually close Wales’ events industry and take all other hospitality businesses much further into sub-viable trading’.
Business leaders in Northern Ireland branded new controls coming into force from Boxing Day ‘unacceptable and unforgivable’.
And hospitality chiefs in Scotland called Nicola Sturgeon’s Hogmanay clampdown ‘a devastating blow’ to the sector.
A survey by the Night Time Industries Association found that bars, pubs and nightclubs have already lost around half of their December income, with individual premises recording ‘Covid debts’ of more than £100,000. Around four in ten said they will go to the wall in less a month without financial aid, while half said more than 50 per cent of jobs are at risk.
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said businesses’s hopes of recouping losses have been ‘shattered’ by the measures.
‘The cost of the sector having to shut down the reopen is staggering and will delay our recovery even further – inevitably costing thousands of jobs,’ she added.
As the coronavirus crisis lurches into its latest dramatic phase:
- Boris Johnson is today being urged to ditch the idea of New Year restrictions after studies showed the Omicron strain is milder than Delta;
- Britain is considering giving out fourth Covid vaccines in a bid to stop the surge of Omicron cases, following the lead of Germany and Israel;
- Millions will face travel chaos over Christmas and the New Year thanks to rail strikes, airport disruption and predictions of the busiest roads in years;
- The Army will be called in to help run makeshift Covid wards inside hospital canteens, car parks and meeting rooms if the NHS becomes overwhelmed;
- Covid hospitalisations in London have risen 50 per cent in a week to 301, approaching the Government’s threshold of 400 for introducing lockdown.
A quiet Soho at night as many restaurants and bars ended up closing at 10pm due to low footfall in central London on Wednesday night
Tables outside restaurants in Soho, London, were empty last night at 10pm as people stayed home amid Covid-19
A quiet Soho at night as many restaurants and bars ended up closing early due to low footfall. With some closed completely not to reopen in the foreseeable future
London’s usually heaving pubs and restaurants were empty last night at 10pm
Soho pavements were cleared of people by 10pm in London on Wednesday night
Researchers at Imperial College London found Omicron is 10 per cent less likely to cause hospitalisation in someone who has never been vaccinated or previously infected with Covid than with Delta. Hospitalisation is up to 20 per cent less likely in the general population — including those who have been infected or vaccinated — and 45 per cent less likely for at least a night
Glasgow Hotel cancelled its New Year’s Eve celebrations and sent staff home due to the rising number of Covid infections
Advertising online was aimed at Britons who are planning on staying at home for New Year’s Eve this year
Many companies have created advertising campaigns for those Britons who plan to stay home for New Year’s Eve
How Covid restrictions compare across the UK
Stormont ministers in Northern Ireland have unveiled new measures to help combat rising case numbers of coronavirus in the nation.
On Wednesday evening, ministers agreed a series of restrictions due to come into force on Boxing Day, including the closure of nightclubs, and guidance to limit contacts with different households.
Here, we look at how the measures compare in the different UK nations.
– What is the situation in England?
One big change which has taken place from December 22 is the rules surrounding the self-isolation period.
If a person in England has tested positive or has symptoms, they can stop self-isolating after seven days instead of 10 days if they receive two negative lateral flow test results on days six and seven.
Those who are unvaccinated close contacts of positive cases must still isolate for 10 days.
In terms of restrictions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reassured people that no further curbs will be introduced in England before December 25. He has yet to announce a post-Christmas Covid strategy for England.
England currently has the most relaxed rules in the UK, but a recent vote in Parliament saw some measures introduced, including Covid passes for entry into nightclubs and other venues as of December 15.
This applies to indoor events with 500 or more attendees where people are likely to stand or move around, such as music venues, outdoor events with 4,000 or more attendees, such as music festivals, and any events with 10,000 or more attendees, whether indoors or outdoors, such as sports stadiums.
Face coverings have also been made compulsory in most indoor public settings, as well as on public transport, and people have been told to work from home if they can.
People aged 18 and over are able to get their third jabs from this week.
England’s guidance is that people should work from home if they can. Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go in to work – but is encouraged to consider taking lateral flow tests regularly.
– What are the rules in Wales?
From December 26, groups of no more than six people will be allowed to meet in pubs, cinemas and restaurants in Wales.
Licensed premises will have to offer table service only, face masks will have to be worn and contact tracing details collected and the two-metre social distancing rules are set to return in public places and workplaces.
Sporting events will be played behind closed doors to help control the spread of the new Omicron variant.
Nightclubs will also be closed from Boxing Day under the new rules, although the Welsh Government has announced a £120 million fund to support any businesses affected by the restrictions.
Regulations will also be changed to include a requirement to work from home wherever possible.
A maximum of 30 people can attend indoor events and a maximum of 50 people at outdoor events. There will be an exception for team sports, where up to 50 spectators will be able to gather in addition to those taking part.
People attending weddings or civil partnership receptions or wakes are also being told to take a lateral flow test before attending.
– What about Scotland?
From Boxing Day, large events will have one-metre social distancing and will be limited to 100 people standing indoors, 200 people sitting indoors and 500 people outdoors.
The following day, the one-metre physical distancing will be implemented between adults in all indoor hospitality and leisure settings, including pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and other settings where food and drink is served, gyms, theatres, cinemas, bingo and snooker halls and bowling alleys.
Museums, galleries and other visitor attractions also have the same rules in place.
Table service is also required where alcohol is being served.
Ministers at Holyrood have announced a package totalling £375 million, including £175 million of additional funding from the Treasury, to support sectors affected by the latest protective measures to combat Omicron.
Since December 14, people have been asked to reduce their social contact as much as possible by meeting in groups of no more than three households.
Allowing staff to work from home where possible has become a legal duty on employers.
Care home visits have also been limited to two households.
– What is Northern Ireland doing?
Northern Ireland deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said nightclubs will be closed from 6am on December 26.
Dancing will also be prohibited in hospitality venues, but this will not apply to weddings.
While nightclubs must close, other restrictions are coming into effect on the rest of the hospitality sector. People must remain seated for table service, while table numbers will be limited to six.
Ministers also agreed that sporting events can continue with no limits on capacity, while the work-from-home message is being bolstered and legislation introduced to require social distancing in offices and similar typed workplaces.
Weddings are exempted from the latest measures.
From December 27, the guidance is for mixing in a domestic setting to be limited to three households.
Douglas McWilliams, the CEBR’s deputy chairman, told MailOnline: ‘Any decision on a further tightening of restrictions needs to balance the medical gains with the economic damage.
‘On the data available at present it looks as though the potential economic damage would be a lot more serious, particularly to the hard-pressed hospitality sector, than any gain from reduced transmission of the new variant.’
Alastair Kerr, South West Regional Representative for the Campaign for Pubs, called the prospect of more restrictions ‘a great worry to many in the hospitality sector’.
‘We have seen many of our beloved publicans give up over the past few weeks due to the added pressure of restrictions and the lack of clear Government advice and assistance for their businesses,’ he told MailOnline.
‘Many publicans have also cancelled their beer & stock orders for the coming weeks as there is no certainty they will be able to open post Christmas to trade.
‘The recent announcement of financial grants by the Chancellor has done very little to assure a struggling industry as for many, these grants do not go far enough to cover the festive period and barely cover rent let only business overheads.
‘What our publicans need is clarity on the Governments position to relieve the great stress and anxiety that is felt by all in the hospitality sector at present.’
Care Minister Gillian Keegan told the public yesterday not to make New Year’s Eve plans which they can’t cancel at short notice.
She announced that 14 people have died with Omicron in the UK. However, the Government has not yet revealed any details about the supposed virus victims – including their ages, their underlying state of health, and whether or not they were vaccinated.
Wales has had the lowest Covid rate of the UK nations over the last seven days at 606 cases per 100,000 people – much lower than London’s rate of 1,400 cases per 100,000.
However, Wales’s daily Covid cases yesterday were almost double last week’s figure with 4,662 new infections, compared to 2,431 on the same day last week.
The Welsh Government is not imposing rules on families mixing in private homes, but has issued tougher guidance which ‘strongly’ advises people to limit household mixing. Mr Drakeford has recommended that no more than three households mix indoors.
He said the measures are necessary because ‘we are facing a very serious situation in Wales’ as he piled the pressure on Mr Johnson.
Tory MPs accused Mr Drakeford of overreacting as they described the new curbs as ‘disproportionate’ and claimed the Labour politician had made the move because ‘he wants to do something different to the UK Government just to show that he can’.
Mr Johnson hit the brakes on a Christmas lockdown in England as scientists concluded Omicron is likely to be milder than Delta, with ministers saying cases are also lower than feared.
The Prime Minister declared that Christmas can definitely go ahead ‘cautiously’, but warned that the Government is tracking the spread of the mutant strain hour by hour and is ‘ready’ to act after December 25 if necessary.
However, in a glimmer of light there are claims that the UK Health Security Agency has tentatively backed suggestions that Omicron infections tend to be less severe.
The scientists also endorsed previous findings that booster jabs offer significant protection from developing symptoms and ending up in hospital, according to Politico.
Another South African study has suggested the risk of hospitalisation is 80 per cent lower with the variant.
The evidence does not mean that the threat from the variant can be ignored, as it is so transmissible that large numbers are set to end up needing urgent care.
Government sources are adamant that it did not play a part in the decision on Christmas last night.
However, the apparent findings will be a significant boost to the Prime Minister as he weighs up whether to bring in even tougher restrictions as early as next week.
It came as The Guardian reported that the NHS could set up ‘field hospitals’ in hospital car parks to provide ‘super surge’ capacity if Omicron causes a massive spike in hospitalisations above previous peak levels.
Meanwhile hospitality bosses have called for more support from the Government.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, told MailOnline: ‘Our overwhelming hope is that we can remain open and trading over Christmas and into the New Year.
‘It is a crucial time for pubs and brewers and after such a challenging year people will be desperate to ring in 2022 with a pint at their local.’
And Peter Marks, chief executive of Rekom, the UK’s largest operator of late bars and clubs, told BBC Radio 4 that New Year’s Eve alone is worth up to 10 per cent of its profits during an ‘absolutely critical’ time of year.
He said: ‘We’re running at 40 per cent down at a period of time which is absolutely critical for us as a business and cash flow, staring at next weekend – wondering, well, we’re probably OK to Christmas now, albeit limping along, but may not even be open on New Year’s Eve which is worth about 8 to 10 per cent of our annual profit.’
Retail is also being badly hit, with the New West End Company saying the number of shoppers in the London district was yesterday down 27 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.
Rishi Sunak’s £1billion bailout for hospitality to help firms hit by a collapse in Christmas bookings was branded a ‘dud cracker’ and not even a ‘sticking plaster’ by hotel bosses.
The Chancellor has come forward with additional help for the hospitality and leisure sectors in England following days of urgent lobbying from MPs, firms and industry officials.
It includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England, which the Treasury expects will be administered by local authorities and to be available in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile London’s streets yesterday remained nearly deserted with TomTom congestion data revealing the capital yesterday had its quietest weekday morning rush hour of the year, with a figure of 18 per cent in the 8am to 9am period.
The level for that period on a working weekday in the capital – including school holidays, but not bank holidays – has not been lower since December 31 last year when it was 8 per cent and London was under Tier 4 rules.
The congestion level represents the extra travel time for drivers on average compared to baseline uncongested conditions.
This means an 18 per cent level results in a 30-minute trip taking 5 minutes more than with no traffic.
Reacting to Mr Sunak’s new support, Tim Rumney, the chief executive of Best Western Hotels in Great Britain said it ‘doesn’t go far enough’.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: ‘It’s like a dud cracker on Christmas Day.
‘The support is always welcome but it just doesn’t go far enough to help us with the problems that we’re going through at the moment with the cancellations and the impact on the finances of hotels and hospitality.
‘What we would like to see is a reintroduction of the support package that was available during lockdown, so reinstatement of furlough, a commitment to extending the VAT relief beyond April 1, preferably reducing it down to 5 per cent which he saw initially, and a suspension of business rates.
‘The problem that hotels and hospitality are having is cash flow. December is the most important month of the year for many businesses and it sees us through the first quarter of next year.
‘A £6,000 grant really goes nowhere near protecting the cash position of our members in Best Western and of the wider hospitality industry.’
Soho was deserted last night at 10pm as Londoners stayed away from the city centre
A few people stood outside a Soho pub but the usual bustling crowds were missing
A quiet night in Soho on Wednesday night as Londoners stayed at home
Side streets were completely cleared of people in Soho, London, on Wednesday night
Chinatown in London’s Soho was empty last night as London resembled a ghost town just three days before Christmas
Empty tables pictured in Soho, London, on Wedneday night at 10pm
Usually crowded pubs stood completely empty in London’s Soho on Wednesday night
TomTom congestion data revealed London Wednesday had its quietest morning rush hour of the year, excluding bank holidays
What financial support is now available for firms?
The Treasury has announced £1 billion of financial support for hospitality and leisure firms affected by the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in recent weeks. Here is what support is available for firms:
– Hospitality and leisure grants
The Treasury has allotted £683 million of funding for targeted grants for hospitality and leisure businesses in England. Businesses will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises, the Government said.
– Additional grants
There will also be £102 million of funding made available for further grants, to be given by local authorities to other businesses affected by the pandemic. This further funding is likely to made available to areas such as retailers, suppliers and landlords of affected firms. About 200,000 businesses will be eligible for business grants which will all be administered by local authorities and will be available in the coming weeks.
– Sick Pay
The Government has said it will also cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences and medium-sized employers across the UK. This will be handed out through the reintroduction of the Government’s statutory sick pay rebate scheme (SSPRS). The scheme reimburses firms with fewer than 250 employees with up to two weeks of Covid-related sick pay per employee. Firms will be eligible for the scheme from Tuesday and be able to make claims retrospectively from mid-January.
– Culture recovery funding
About £30 million of further funding will also be made available through the Culture Recovery Fund, enabling arts and culture organisations to access funding over the winter.
– Elsewhere in the UK
The Treasury announced £150 million for the devolved administrations. The funding, which will be issued in relation to the Barnett formula, will comprise about £80 million for the Scottish Government, £50 million for the Welsh Government and £25 million for the Northern Ireland Executive.
– Existing measures
Mr Sunak has also highlighted a number of existing financial support measures for firms. One of these is reduced business rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure firms for the remainder of the financial year. There will also be a 50% reduction in business rates for firms in these sectors in the 2022/23 financial year. However, these reliefs will both have limited benefit for larger operators, with next year’s relief capped at £110,000 per business. The Chancellor has also highlighted the rate of hospitality VAT, which at 12.5%, is lower than the 20% rate before the pandemic, although this increased from 5% in October. Pub bosses have also said that VAT support only has a limited benefit when takings are heavily reduced, and no benefit when closures take place.
Surinder Arora, founder and chairman of the Arora Group, the largest private owner/operator of hotels in the UK, has also been left unimpressed by the package which he said would not give much help to larger companies.
He told the Today programme: ‘The Government are in a tough position in a sense, they’ve had to decide very quickly last year whether it was furlough and business rates and VAT and other things, and sadly this time I think they seem to have taken their eye off the ball, and it is very tough.
‘And I’ve heard a couple of other speakers mention ‘sticking plaster’ and other things, and it really doesn’t even go as far as that.
‘I really wish and hope the Government would look at this urgently and support businesses such as ours – not just smaller, medium sized businesses, but when you’re talking about £5,000 or £6,000 support for a business.
‘If I was just to mention one of my hotels, for example, the rateable value is nearly £6million a year. You’re paying about 50p in the £1. So the business rates alone for one hotel are about £250,000 a month. Where does £6,000 take year?
‘I was querying it with one of my team members last week and I was saying ‘well surely we wouldn’t be paying the full rate now when the business is on its knees’. And they said ‘no, the way the rateable value works, sadly, they look at the turnover in the business from 2015/16’.
‘Well surely that can’t be right, and this is where I think the Government really have to help not just hotels but other businesses from a business rate point of view. We thought that we might get some relief from the VAT side, because we want people coming in.
The Government also intends to use taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for firms with fewer than 250 employees.
Cultural organisations in England can also access a further £30 million funding during the winter via the culture recovery fund, the Treasury said.
Mr Sunak’s announcement follows crisis talks with business leaders after he cut short a Government business trip to California.
But Coral Rose, chairman of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Wholesalers have not received anything with regards of business rates relief since the start of the pandemic in 2020 so we were very much looking forward to Christmas this year being the start of our recovery from 2020 and the losses that we incurred there.
‘And we’re now seeing that we’re stocking up our warehouses to make sure that we had plenty of supply for what looked like a busy season, that we’re now being left with in our warehouses.
‘We bear the cost as wholesalers, we of course try and see what we can sell and clear, often at below cost. We hate to see it go to waste, but we’ll give it to Feed The Community, to FareShare, to any other local communities and good causes. We don’t want to throw away good food.
‘The Chancellor did announce back in March the Covid Additional Relief Fund, a £1.5billion fund, where thanks to the campaigning of the FWD he specifically referenced that wholesalers should be included in the allocation of these monies by the local authorities.
‘That was in March, they were only released a matter of weeks ago so we’re going through the process of applying for those, and then the extra £102million Additional Restrictions Grant, it has been referenced that it should be allocated to those who supply the hospitality and leisure sectors.
‘But it’s a postcode lottery, we’re waiting for the local authorities to allocate those monies and it’s not always fairly distributed by them. We are grateful that the Chancellor has listened to our concerns, but we just want the local authorities to act quickly now.’
Businesses have seen takings plummet due to Christmas festivities being scaled back amid fear over the spread of Omicron.
Mr Johnson said of the new funding: ‘With the surge in Omicron cases, people are rightly exercising more caution as they go about their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors at what is typically the busiest time of the year.
‘That’s why we’re taking immediate action to help with an extra £1billion in grants to these industries and reintroducing our Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.
‘I urge people across the country to please get boosted now to secure vital protection for yourselves, your loved ones and your communities.’
Mr Sunak added: ‘We recognise that the spread of the Omicron variant means businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors are facing huge uncertainty, at a crucial time.
‘So we’re stepping in with £1billion of support, including a new grant scheme, the reintroduction of the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme and further funding released through the culture recovery fund.’
The extra support builds on existing schemes in place to assist businesses, the Treasury said.
Tim Rumney (left), the chief executive of Best Western Hotels in Great Britain, said the support ‘doesn’t go far enough’, while Surinder Arora (right), founder and chairman of the Arora Group, has also been left unimpressed by the package
The devolved administrations will receive around £150million of funding through the Barnett formula as part of the support announced, the department added.
This includes around £80million for the Scottish Government, £50million for the Welsh Government and £25million for the Northern Ireland Executive.
Asked why the Government is not bringing back furlough, Ms Keegan told Sky News: ‘Because people are still working. I went out for a family meal yesterday you know, the pub… not every table was full but most of it was. You know people are still going out and people are still enjoying themselves, so you know we’re trying to get that balance.’
The hospitality sector relies on Christmas sales for as much as a third of its yearly income and to tide it over through January and February. Critics welcomed the offer of help but argued the £6,000 grants would not be enough.
Jonathan Neame, boss of Britain’s oldest brewer Shepherd Neame, said: ‘We welcome the fact the Government is listening but this seems inadequate to compensate for millions of pounds of lost sales.’
Des Gunewardena, who runs the D&D restaurant chain, said £6,000 would not even cover his restaurants’ Christmas decorations.
He added: ‘Many of our larger restaurants lost £100,000-plus from cancellations last week. It’s the same again this week and heaven knows what’s going to happen to our New Year’s Eve.
‘So each of those businesses is facing £200,000-plus losses and has been offered £6,000 which doesn’t even cover the cost of our Christmas decorations.’
The Institute of Directors said the support will be ‘welcome relief’ to many businesses.
Policy director Dr Roger Barker said: ‘However, with the unwinding of a number of remaining support schemes at the end of Q1 2022, such as the VAT reduction for hospitality and business rates support, businesses also need the reassurance that these measures will now last for longer into 2022.’
Chief economist at the Confederation of British Industry Rain Newton-Smith said that any future lockdown measures must also be matched with further support.
She said: ‘The Government must monitor the situation closely and ensure that any new restrictions go in lock-step with further targeted cashflow support.’
‘Rishi clearly has no how bad our industry’s been affected’: Leisure bosses question why gyms have been left out of Chancellor’s VAT and grant scheme as Omicron measures hammer economy
BY JACK WRIGHT FOR MAILONLINE
Furious gym bosses have slammed Rishi Sunak’s ‘shameful’ Covid financial package as they are left out of the Chancellor’s £1billion bailout.
Leaders in the leisure industry said thousands of business owners are not eligible for £6,000 government grants being handed out to pubs and restaurants as surging Omicron cases hammer the economy.
They warned that the programme is ‘ignorant of all the evidence provided to the Government on the damaging impact of the existing Plan B measures to these facilities’, and urged Ministers to rethink the decision.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, Sandy Macaskill, founder of Barry’s UK, claimed the fact that the fitness sector has also been missed out of the Government’s VAT relief ‘demonstrates clearly that the Chancellor has no clue how badly our industry has been affected’ during the pandemic.
‘Rishi Sunak should spend less time proudly telling people how often he works out on American online workout platforms like Peloton and more time learning about the state of the fitness sector in his own country,’ he added.
‘We’re a family run business here in the UK, and to have missed out on the ongoing VAT relief extended to hospitality demonstrates clearly that the Chancellor has no clue how badly our industry has been affected.’
In an open letter to the Prime Minister at the weekend alongside other fitness chiefs, Mr Macaskill insisted that January and February are ‘crucial months’, bringing in around 50 per cent of annual revenue.
Reacting to Mr Sunak’s support measures, Huw Edwards, CEO of ukactive, said the decision was ‘shameful’ and will ‘lead to businesses that support the health and wellbeing of communities going to the wall’.
In a statement, he warned: ‘This is a health crisis, so to dismiss calls for support from these essential organisations that improve people’s health is inexcusable and will lead to our nation’s physical activity levels – which are already in a lamentable state – becoming even worse.
‘Looking forward, the Government also needs to recognise that our sector is entering its most crucial operating period.
‘It needs to ensure that the tens of millions of people in this country that depend on these facilities are able to use them, especially as we enter the depths of winter and the impact this has on people’s physical and mental wellbeing. We urge the government to think again.’