An employee of a pub in Edinburgh puts chairs together. Due to the increasing number of infections, the Scottish government has announced further restrictions. (Andrew Milligan /PA Wire /dpa)
The end of the preliminary dry spell was only three months ago, but pubs and restaurants in England could have to close again next week in view of the sharp rise in the number of infections. And thus follow Scotland’s example. In most of the northern province, including Glasgow and Edinburgh, a 16-day mandatory break for the catering industry has been in effect since Friday. In less densely populated areas, the inns are only allowed to serve alcohol outside.
Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon justified the measures as a “short, sharp action”. A few weeks ago, the restrictions for the whole country were tightened. For example, there is a stricter mask requirement, pubs, bars and restaurants have to close at 10 p.m. and according to the “Rule of Six”, a maximum of six people are allowed to meet. But especially in the north of England, such as Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool, the number of infections has recently risen sharply – despite the stricter measures compared to London, which have been in place in the Greater Manchester area for two months.
The chaos is also due to the system. While Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own decentralized state governments and can decide on local restrictions themselves, Boris Johnson plays a dual role. As prime minister, he rules the entire kingdom, but is also the head of the country because that part does not have a separate state government. And Johnson is under massive pressure, including in his own conservative party.
One minister complained that the situation was “getting out of hand”. The number of infections in the kingdom has been increasing for weeks. 17 540 new cases were reported on Thursday for the past 24 hours, on Friday there were just under 14,000. This week, an average of 70 people who tested positive for the coronavirus died every day. The ONS, the National Bureau of Statistics, estimates that one in 240 people in the UK is currently infected with the virus. The trend is “clear and very worrying”, it said on the part of the health authority Public Health England. Not only that, apparently again, restrictions on contact between different households are being considered. Owners of pubs, restaurants and cafes in the north of England and the Midlands fear that they too will have to turn off and close their taps next week.
Concern for a quick economic recovery
There is great fear of further sales losses, bankruptcies and mass layoffs in the hospitality industry. The Greene King chain has just announced that it will close 79 pubs and cut up to 800 jobs. With the uncertainty, the concern about a quick recovery of the drastically collapsed economy grows. At the same time, the country has recorded more than 42,500 deaths from corona than any other country in Europe. The government’s course is seen as a tightrope walk.
The Scottish Hospitality Group, an amalgamation of some of the nation’s best-known pubs and restaurants, accused First Minister Sturgeon of “signing the death warrant” for many companies. The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce described the measures as a “coffin nail” for numerous businesses in the hospitality industry. Nevertheless, critics denounce the previous restrictions as inconsistent and the communication from Downing Street as confusing.