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Restaurants in the UK could start to reopen from July

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given the UK a first glimpse of a “conditional plan” which could see some hospitality outlets reopen from July at the earliest.

Addressing the nation on Sunday (10 May), Johnson outlined the “first sketch of a road map for reopening society”.

Comprised of a number of steps which are dependent on conditions, that in turn influence the new Covid Alert Level, Johnson revealed plans for the reopening of some shops, schools and public places.

The hospitality industry, covered in step three, could start to reopen “at the earliest by July”. Johnson said that this was subject to conditions being fulfilled as well as “further scientific advice”, and said that changes would only be made “if the numbers support it”.

He said he hoped “at least some of the hospitality and other public places” would start to reopen at this time, “provided they are safe and enforce social distancing”.

No further details as to the type of venues that would reopen were released, however The Guardian has reported that Johnson was referencing cafés and restaurants with outdoor space which can enforce social distancing, rather than pubs.

More details are expected to be unveiled in parliament today, while a new 50-page guidance document is also set to be published by the government later. Johnson will appear at the daily Covid-19 briefing today to answer questions.

The prime minister also revealed that from 1 June (step two), the government could begin the “phased reopening” of shops, as well as primary schools.

Johnson reiterated that decisions would be dependent on the UK satisfying the “five tests”, which are to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, provide proof of a sustained fall in the death rate, see sustained and considerable falls in the rate of infection, sort out challenges relating to the supply of PPE, and take measures which ensure that the reproductive rate of disease – the R – does not rise over one.

While further details of the government’s plans are expected, restaurateurs have previously expressed concern about re-opening when social distancing measures are in place.

Writing in the company newsletter last week, co-founder of restaurant group Corbin & King, Jeremy King, said that operating social distancing in a restaurant was “impossible and implausible”. Russell Norman of the Polpo restaurant group previously told The Guardian that the two-metre rule would result in the remove of two-thirds of seats from his restaurants, which would be financially unfeasible for the business.

Other countries also differ in their approach. Restaurants in some parts of Germany (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) have reopened, while the whole of Denmark has reopened eateries, albeit with social distancing in force. Australia has also released plans to gradually reopen hospitality outlets, with increasing numbers of people allowed in a site as the scheme progresses.

In Italy, bars and restaurants can reopen for dine-in meals from 1 June, while in America, 24 states have announced measures to reopen restaurants.

However, bars and restaurants remain closed in France. In Spain, bars with outdoor terraces have reopened, but other hospitality outlets are not permitted to fully reopen until 10 June and must operate at 50% capacity. It’s a similar story in Hong Kong, which has eased social distancing laws but has stated tables in bars and pubs must seat a maximum of four people, while restaurant tables must be spaced at least 2.5 metres apart.

UK reaction

Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, said Johnson’s announcement gave the industry “a sense of the shape of his plan and journey ahead”.

She added: “Mr Johnson was explicit about his commitment to support those workers whose businesses are not able to return soon, and we remain committed to continuing our dialogue with the government to achieve that. We have been calling for a more flexible, extended furlough system and today’s statement appears to leave the door open for that.

“UKHospitality has already been working up protocols for implementation in different parts of the sector, to allow venues to confidently open their doors when it is safe to do so. This is very much consistent with the approach of ‘Covid secure’ standards that the Prime Minister referenced. He recognised in his statement that some parts of business will be able to open and others won’t – we will work to ensure that the government is well-placed to support those in hospitality that need longer, as well as on enabling those who are able to return.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said the pub industry has “more weeks of uncertainty ahead”.

She criticised Johnson for providing “insufficient clarity” as to when pubs can reopen, stating the industry is “in limbo and facing severe uncertainty and financial devastation”.

She added: “If [the] government plans to keep pubs closed until the final phase of release, as rumoured, this would make pubs first in and last out of lockdown.

“Despite this, the government hasn’t outlined any specific additional financial support for pubs to assure and help them through the extended lockdown hardship they face. We understand that pubs should only open when safe to do so, but extending the lockdown without offering additional support will be devastating.”

She pointed to research conducted by the BBPA which suggested that 40% of British pubs, the equivalent of 19,000 sites, would not survive beyond September with the current level of financial aid available to the them. She urged the government to put “targeted measures” in place in order to save the industry.

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