Pubs, cinema, sporting events, theatres and nightclubs will remain closed until 19 July
With lockdown restrictions lifting, the UK is on its way to final lockdown easing after more than a year of tough regulations to combat the spread of the virus, forcing businesses all over the country to shut down. The government has delayed the final lockdown until 19 July over concerns of the Delta variant first identified in India, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced today.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed today a four-week delay to England’s final lockdown easing until 19 July amid a surge in Delta cases and a rise in Covid-19 hospitalisations. The delay will allow more people to get fully vaccinated, with the rollout extended to 23-year-olds on Tuesday. Health Secretary Matt Hancock says financial support is in place for businesses until September, and though he understands the impact on businesses, he also sees the impact on saving lives.
During a speech in commons today, Mr Hancock said the Delta variant now accounts for 90% of cases across the country with a higher risk of hospitalisation, with cases on the rise, 64% up from last week. Mr Hancock says it will take a little longer to build more protection against the virus, but the science says “we will get there”. “It is with a heavy heart we have not decided to move ahead with step four next week,” he said.
The news comes as a huge blow to the hospitality sector, with many already having prepared for a 21 June reopening. Pubs, cinemas, sporting events, theatres and nightclubs will remain closed until 19 July. Pub bosses have warned the four-week delay in lifting Covid-19 restrictions will cost the sector £400 million.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), said the delay is “hard for our sector to stomach”. She said: “The delay will cost our pubs £400m for this period alone, but inevitably much more as confidence deteriorates and as a key part of the summer season is lost that is so critical to our sectors viability. Pubs and licensees are struggling to recover with the current restrictions they face and debts are accumulating.”
Ms McClarkin added: “Every week the current restrictions stay and uncertainty continues, the likelihood of pubs being lost forever increases. A full package of government support is now critical for our sector until it is guaranteed to open fully without any restrictions.”
Meanwhile, the UK Weddings Taskforce – an industry group – estimates that 50,000 weddings planned in the four weeks from 21 June could be cancelled, with the industry losing £325m for every week of delay. The current number of guests allowed at weddings is limited to 30. The 30-person cap will be lifted on June 21, but venues will still have to limit numbers and activities based on space. Thousands of nightclubs have spent millions preparing to reopen on 19 June, but with the date now postponed, many are struggling to stay afloat.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan warned the lockdown extension could have dire consequences for struggling businesses. Many of our businesses are already struggling for survival, and the announcement today will add to their worry and anxiety, he said on Monday evening. “The planned reduction in financial support at the end of June could now have dire consequences for jobs and livelihoods, pushing more businesses in sectors such as culture, nightlife and hospitality to the brink of collapse.
The mayor added: “The government must now act urgently to extend economic support to all businesses who need it – including extending the full business rates holiday, the evictions moratorium and the existing furlough scheme until all restrictions are lifted.”
When asked if the furlough scheme would be extended past 19 July, Boris Johnson said he was confident the date would not be pushed back again thus, there would be no need to extend furlough further. It’s unmistakably clear the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the vaccine roll-out has made our position incomparably better than in previous waves, he said.
But now is the time to ease off the accelerator, because by being cautious now we have the chance in the next four weeks to save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people. When asked about businesses having to push back their opening date by four weeks, Mr Johnson said he is “confident we will get there” for a definite 19 July and that opening will not be postponed any later than that.
With the easing of restrictions pushed back by four weeks, thousands of businesses across the UK will be struggling to stay afloat and will cost the hospitality sector millions of pounds. It is without question that the delay will allow more people to get vaccinated, but businesses will face consequences that could affect them in the long-run.