Government urged to scrap 10pm curfew after just 30 outbreaks linked to pubs and restaurants last week
DOWNING Street is under intense pressure to scrap the hated 10pm curfew after just 30 outbreaks were linked to pubs and restaurants across England last week.
The news came a day after lockdown-loving Professor Chris Whitty claimed almost a third of recent cases could be traced to hospitality venues.
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Pub groups and a growing number of Tory MPs want an immediate end to the curfew and have accused ministers of “cobbling together” the numbers to justify their point of view.
It comes as the Government prepares to close all northern pubs and restaurants from Monday.
The 30 hospitality-linked “outbreaks” — a term which can mean as little as one person being affected by coronavirus — were revealed in Public Health England stats released on Friday.
They accounted for 3.3 per cent of the 918 total outbreaks recorded over the past week.
In comparison, there were 325 outbreaks in schools, colleges and universities, a further 172 in care homes and 47 in hospitals.
Meanwhile, experts from the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) pointed to data that shows just five per cent of those alerted by NHS Test and Trace had been in close contact with another person in a hospitality venue.
Chief medical officer Professor Whitty is reported to have shown MPs data suggesting that 41 per cent of people who test positive for Covid in England admit to visiting a hospitality business in the days before their diagnosis.
But it emerged that Public Health England had produced that data using only a small sample size that referenced 98 pubs and 67 cafes.
Gateshead council leader Martin Gannon said leaders in the North East had “agreed a line” in terms of restrictions they will accept, and called on ministers to avoid shuttering pubs.
Mr Gannon added: “We believe the current measures can work without causing further damage by closing hospitality.
“If the Government ignores us, we will call for a substantial financial package to sustain the businesses and workers.”
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester Council, said evidence suggested that pubs, bars and restaurants were not major sources of transmission.
He added that in his region the virus was more likely to spread among students, and in household settings.
And he said measures including the 10pm curfew were having a “seriously negative impact” on the economy. Sir Richard added: “Further measures risk posing an existential threat for enormous numbers of our businesses and the people who work in them.”
Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the IEA, has also warned against closing the industry again.
He said: “The Government should only consider shutting down again if the evidence is overwhelming. In fact, the evidence that pubs are a significant source of Covid transmission is very weak.
“The curfew has been counter-productive. Pubs and restaurants are highly-regulated environments. Shutting them again is only likely to make the situation a lot worse.”
MPs will get a chance to vote on the curfew next week, with Tory Steve Baker suggesting the measures should be fine-tuned.
He told The Sun: “It’s very clear this is a dangerous disease. Nevertheless, the cost of fighting it is devastating and the Government could reduce that devastation by making it possible for restaurants to get two sets of people through every table in an evening.
“That means making 10pm the eating and drinking-up time, not kicking out time.”
Last week Kate Nicholls, boss of trade group UK Hospitality, told MPs that the latest restrictions had moved pub operators back to the trading levels they saw at the start of July.
Industry giant JD Wetherspoon is poised to report a loss in its annual results next Friday. The chain was forced to shut venues for three months before reopening them in August.
It is poised to report a boost from that month’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme and its follow-up September initiative, Stay Out to Help Out.
The latter saw prices reduced on some meals and drinks from Mondays to Wednesdays.
But Wetherspoons’ chairman Tim Martin recently told investors that sales for September 12 were 22.5 per cent below the equivalent Saturday last year.
It highlighted a potential regression after the company had reported like-for-like sales decline of 16.9 per cent for the 44 days to August 16, when it had benefited from Eat Out to Help Out and the warmer weather.
The firm has also announced plans to cut 450 jobs across six of its airport pubs.
There are also questions over whether the incentive schemes and cuts to food and drink VAT will offset cost rises. Susannah Streeter, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Wetherspoon spent £15million on hygiene and social distancing measures when they reopened.
“Recouping those costs and the loss of business won’t be easy given the slow economic recovery and the earlier closing times the chain has now to adhere to.”
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