Snow, Sleet and Freezing Temperatures Hit UK as Pub Beer Gardens Reopen

As if Government restrictions around the reopening of pubs and restaurants weren’t onerous enough, customers in many parts of the UK will have to endure snow, sleet and single-digit temperatures if they want to enjoy their “freedoms” outdoors. The Met has forecast sunshine in some areas, but “wet and wintry” weather elsewhere.

The Guardian has the story.

The lifting of lockdown restrictions to allow people in England to use pub beer gardens and dine in the outdoor areas of restaurants is being met by snowfall, as a spring cold snap hits.

The inclement weather will come as a blow to thousands of businesses that were hoping to welcome back customers on Monday after months of restrictions.

Met Office forecasters said southern England and much of Wales could expect outbreaks of rain, sleet and some snow, although this was predicted to clear through the morning, leaving sunny intervals and scattered showers.

Elsewhere in the UK, people were told to expect sunny periods and isolated wintry showers. The Met Office said temperatures were not expected to rise beyond single figures celsius. …

A number of pubs with 24-hour licences opened as soon as they were allowed. The Kentish Belle in south-east London opened at one minute past midnight on Monday until 3am. In Newcastle, the Switch bar and the Bank did the same, despite temperatures dropping below freezing.

Boris Johnson said people should enjoy the new freedoms but remain wary of the risks. In a message hailing the latest stage of lockdown lifting, the Prime Minister said: “Today is a major step forward in our roadmap to freedom as venues such as shops, hairdressers, nail salons, outdoor attractions, and pubs and restaurants open once again.”

The Prime Minister has stressed the importance of “fresh air” as a preventative measure against Covid. We’ve certainly got plenty of that. But with nearly 40 million people vaccinated and a steep decline in Covid cases – the fastest decline in the world – why can’t our reopening go at least one step further and allow hospitality venues to open indoors?

The Guardian’s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: A photo of two customers at a bistro in Surrey eating outdoors this morning illustrates the “new reality” of outdoor dining.

Lack of Outdoor Space Will Prevent Large Number of Hospitality Venues Opening As Lockdown Partially Eased

While the partial easing of lockdown restrictions is being welcomed by the hospitality industry, the requirement that customers must remain outdoors means a great many businesses across the country will have no choice but to remain closed until restrictions are eased further. BBC News has the story.

A “large proportion” of hospitality businesses “won’t be able to open” on Monday, despite an easing of lockdown restrictions in England, because they do not have access to sufficient outdoor space. 

In England… restaurants and pubs [will be] allowed to serve food and alcohol to customers sitting outdoors.

But Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, told BBC Breakfast only two in every five venues would reopen. 

“The majority of the industry still has to cling on for five weeks,” said Ms Nicholls.

Nonetheless she said it was a “welcome restart” for those businesses that are able to comply with current coronavirus measures.

Ms Nicholls said that even those venues which can reopen will achieve nothing like their normal revenues: “They still aren’t going to break even… the best they are going to achieve outdoors is 20%.”

“Until we get to June 21st, hospitality won’t be able to be viable.”

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Rachael Robathan, the the leader of Tory-run Westminster council, has urged the Government to bring forward indoor opening of pubs from May. She is quoted in the Telegraph.

The hospitality sector continues to face real peril, with difficult choices presented as a result of what the roadmap does and does not allow. 

The costs and challenges associated with a reopening limited to outdoor space, if there is indeed any available to them, means that many businesses have informed us that they must delay their reopening until May, slowing down the recovery.

This is a particular challenge for central London venues where there is less likelihood of businesses having access to outdoor space in the first place, compared to rural areas and market towns. 

For many premises, it is simply not viable to open, although we will continue our sector-leading al fresco programme to extend this opportunity to as many businesses as we can.

Worth reading in full.

Plans for Vaccine Passports When Visiting Pubs and Restaurants Ditched – for Now

Plans to force people to show vaccine passports when going to a pub or restaurant have been ditched. Proof of a Covid jab or test will, however, still be required for festivals and sports events, according to reports. The Sun has the story.

Boris Johnson has ditched plans to force customers to show a vaccine passport every time they go into a pub.

In a major boost for the hospitality trade, the PM will exempt bars and restaurants from new Covid safety rules.

Only those attending mass gatherings, such as festivals or major sports events, will be required to provide proof of a jab, test or natural immunity.

Landlords, who can reopen outdoors-only a week tomorrow in England, will soon be free to admit anyone who follows existing guidelines on social distancing and mask-wearing.

Boris’s change of heart came after an angry backlash from 73 MPs who branded the idea “divisive and discriminatory”.

Trials of vaccine passports are still going ahead as planned – the debate over their usage is far from over yet, despite the good news on pubs.

NHS chiefs are developing a new app members of the public will have to show to gain access to sports stadiums, theatres, festivals and nightclubs.

Those without a smartphone will get a paper certificate.

The system will be trialled at nine pilot events over the next few weeks, where experts will also explore how high-tech ventilation and Covid tests on entry are working.

Mr Johnson will study the feedback to help decide how to manage other large-scale gatherings as restrictions are lifted.

Worth reading in full.

Clearly, the idea of domestic Covid passports is not dead. As Fraser Nelson said in the Spectator today: “In theory, the Government is taking soundings. In practice, those involved in Michael Gove’s review have been told that the decision has already been made by the PM: so they’re happening.” While the Government may not force pubs and restaurants to restrict entrance to those with vaccine passports, it will likewise not stop businesses from imposing such limits themselves, as Michael Gove has suggested in an article for the Sunday Telegraph.

At the moment, businesses could set up their own private certification schemes and use them to restrict access. Nightclubs and other venues already police entry. Some may well want to embrace any tool available to signal to visitors they are at low risk of infection.

Also worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Mirror reports that, while pubs, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to reopen in full without vaccine passports on May 17th, they may be forced to introduce them at some point in the future.

Stop Press 2: This image from the Sun shows where vaccine passports will be required at first.

Matt Hancock Summoned to High Court to Justify Opening Shops Before Pubs

Why is it that pubs and restaurants cannot open at the same time as “non-essential” shops? Matt Hancock has been ordered to the High Court to justify this decision, following legal action by Sacha Lord and Hugh Osmond. The Telegraph has the story.

Matt Hancock has been ordered to the High Court on Tuesday to justify why he is allowing non-essential shops to open before pubs and restaurants.

The legal action has been brought by nightclubs operator Sacha Lord and Pizza Express founder Hugh Osmond to try to force the early opening of hospitality venues.

According to High Court documents seen by the Telegraph the pair are challenging “the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 to the extent that those Regulations provide for non-essential retail businesses to reopen before indoor hospitality businesses”.

The order from Mr Justice Swift says that “the Secretary of State shall by 10am on Tuesday April 6th, 2021 file and serve his response to the application” from the pair.

Although Mr Hancock has been summoned to the High Court, it is likely that officials in his department will have to attend court on his behalf. 

“Non essential” shops will be able to open from April 12th, while indoor hospitality businesses will have to remain closed until at least May 17th. Mr Osmond has said that this case offers “some hope… for those of us who cherish British freedom and who crave a return to rational and democratic governing”. He continued:

In a democracy, evidence and rationality should still matter, and so too should transparency, challenge and accountability. 

Government has been given an easy ride in Parliament with the official Opposition being nowhere to be seen.  

This has led to arbitrariness, randomness and a complete lack of logic in the rules, and we’re starting to see it being accompanied by something even more sinister: an arrogance, and a sense that ministers are above scrutiny.   

The Government left us no choice but to take it to court and regardless of the eventual outcome of the case, I am grateful to Mr Justice Swift (whose name seems so apt) for recognising that this is a truly urgent matter affecting the lives of millions of people, that simply cannot wait.

The Telegraph’s report is worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, has congratulated Sacha Lord and Hugh Osmond on Twitter for forcing the Health Secretary to justify opening non-essential businesses, but not indoor hospitality businesses, in court.

Every Customer Must “Sign in” When Pubs Reopen

In yet another blow to the hospitality industry, the Government has announced that all customers at pubs, restaurants and cafes must provide contact details (either written or via the NHS Test and Trace app) on entry. Previously, only one member of each group had to provide details. Doing so was voluntary (staff were only asked to “encourage” customers to provide their details). But the new guidelines state that those who will not provide their details must be “refuse[d] entry”. BBC News has the story.

New rules to help pubs, cafes and restaurants reopen outdoors safely in England on April 12th have sparked anger from industry groups.

All customers will have to sign in on entry, not just one member of the group like before. It is also unclear whether payment at the bar will be permitted. …

Under the new guidance, every customer aged 16 and over will have to check in to NHS Test and Trace before entering a venue, or give their contact details to staff.

Pubs and restaurants must take “reasonable steps” to stop people who won’t comply from coming in, or they could face fines.

Carl Ford, an accountant based in Tamworth, told the BBC he was frustrated and confused by the rules.

“I feel like it’s almost like going back to school where I have to sign in and out,” he said. 

“I don’t understand why I have to do this in a restaurant or pub, but I don’t need to do this in a supermarket where you have a free for all. People don’t have to sign in and they can pick up fruit with their hands.” …

In a joint statement, UK Hospitality, the British Beer & Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping said the rules would add “more confusion and inconvenience for customers and staff”.

When pubs and restaurants opened last summer, customers were “encouraged” to provide their contact details, but to do so was not mandatory (see official guidance below).

These guidelines have, however, since been updated: venues must now take “reasonable steps to refuse entry to those who refuse to check in or provide contact details”. Compliance is no longer a personal choice. It is mandatory.

Legal Action Launched Over Indoor Hospitality Reopening Date

The Government is facing yet another legal challenge over its lockdown restrictions – this time on the plan to keep hospitality venues closed for weeks longer than “non-essential” shops. The Express and Star has the story.

Plans to keep indoor hospitality venues closed for weeks longer than non-essential shops in England are facing a legal challenge from a leading restaurateur and night tsar.

Hugh Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns and a former director of Pizza Express, and Sacha Lord, Greater Manchester’s night time economy adviser, have submitted a claim for a judicial review to the Government.

They believe there is “no evidence or justification for the prioritisation” of non-essential retail over hospitality, and said it could have a “potentially indirectly discriminatory effect” on young people and people from BAME backgrounds working in hospitality.

Under the Prime Minister’s road map for unlocking restrictions in England, non-essential retail will open no earlier than April 12th. But indoor hospitality venues will not open until at least May 17th.

Mr Osmond, director of Various Eateries, said the Government must base its decisions on “evidence not prejudice” when taking “momentous and unprecedented actions affecting millions of its citizens”.

“I believe we can show that discrimination and unsubstantiated beliefs, rather than facts, science and evidence, lie at the heart of much of the Government’s approach to hospitality, and these wrongs need to be righted…

“We won’t ever be able to repair our health, recover our social lives or rebuild our economy if we allow our Government to lock us up and shut down the economy on the basis of such flawed logic, little justification or evidence.”

Many pubs – including the Turk’s Head Inn in Gloucester city centre – will not be able to open for outdoor service in May due to a lack of outdoor space and worries about the weather, highlighting the significance of this legal challenge.

Worth reading in full.

Fact Check: “Rishi Sunak Was the Main Person Responsible for Covid’s Second Wave”

The Times has published the latest instalment in Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott’s new book Failures of State, an exercise, it seems, in recording the Official Narrative.

In the excerpt the authors lay the blame for the second wave at the feet of Chancellor Rishi Sunak, quoting a SAGE source that he was “the main person who was responsible for the second wave”. The editors picked this incendiary quote as the title of the piece.

Calvert and Arbuthnott write:

The Government had been warned about the consequences of a second wave but, by the end of July, the scientists on SAGE were reporting that they had no confidence that R was not now above the one threshold. The Government’s limited room for manoeuvre was acknowledged by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, at a hastily arranged press conference. “We have probably reached near the limits, or the limits, of what we can do in terms of opening up society,” he said.

The following Monday, August 3rd, was going to be the start of Eat Out to Help Out, come what may. According to a Conservative MP source, both Matt Hancock and Michael Gove were concerned about pressing ahead, but “the voices that were prevailing in government, for whatever reason, were those that were pushing a case that was based purely on economic recovery at all costs as fast as possible”.

By mid-August, positive tests had risen to more than a thousand a day. The Commons all-party coronavirus group wrote directly to the Prime Minister. “It is already clear that to minimise the risk of a second wave occurring . . . an urgent change in government approach is required,” said the letter.