Boris Johnson was forced to make a series of about-turns, withdrawing from his earlier determination to get people back to normality.
Weeks after offering people cheap meals to get them back to pubs and restaurants, he imposed a 10pm curfew to restrict numbers.
After instructing people to get back to work, he again urged them to stay at home if possible.
Both moves angered a hospitality industry that has suffered badly in recent months and was hoping to build on an encouraging few weeks since the summer lockdown ended.
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Banks’s brewer and pubs owner Marston’s was among those dismayed at Mr Johnson’s statement, both in the Commons at lunchtime yesterday and to the nation last night. The Midlands-based company, which has scores of pubs in Shropshire and Mid Wales, said it would have a devastating effect on business.
Boris Johnson insisted said the Government must “act now to avoid still graver consequences later on”.
He said a month ago an average of about 1,000 people across the UK were testing positive for Covid-19 every day, adding the latest figure has almost quadrupled to 3,929.
He said the Government will introduce new restrictions in England “carefully judged to achieve the maximum reduction in the R number with the minimum damage to lives and livelihoods”.
He added: “I want to stress that this is by no means a return to the full lockdown of March. We’re not issuing a general instruction to stay at home.
“We will ensure that schools, colleges, universities stay open because nothing is more important than the education, health and well-being of our young people.
“We will ensure businesses can stay open in a Covid-compliant way. However we must take action to suppress the disease.”
He asked people to avoid travelling into the workplace, adding: “We are once again asking office workers who can work from home to do so. In key public services and in all professions where home working is not possible, such as construction or retail, people should continue to attend their workplaces.”
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He added: “All pubs, bars and restaurants must operate a table service only, except for takeaways. Together with all hospitality venues, they must close at 10pm. And to help the police enforce this rule that means, alas, closing not just calling for last orders, because simplicity is paramount.”
Mr Johnson tightened rules on masks and also announced that a maximum of 15 people are now able to attend a wedding.
He said: “We will extend the requirement to wear face coverings to include staff in retail, all users of taxis and private hire vehicles and staff and customers in indoor hospitality, except when seated at a table to eat or drink.
“In retail, leisure and tourism and other sectors, our Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations.
“Now is also the time to tighten up the rule of six. I’m afraid that from Monday a maximum of 15 people will be able to attend wedding ceremonies and receptions, though up to 30 can still attend a funeral as now. We will also have to extend the rule of six to all adult indoor team sports.”
The Prime Minister said the steps were likely to remain in place for six months. It was revealed yesterday that a vaccine may be around for limited numbers by Christmas, with wider distribution into next year.
The Prime Minster added: “No British Government would wish to stifle our freedoms in the ways that we have found necessary this year.
“Yet even now we can draw some comfort from the fact schools, universities, and places of worship are staying open, shops can serve their customers, construction workers can go to building sites and the vast majority of the UK economy can continue moving forwards.
“We’re also better prepared for a second wave with ventilators and PPE, the dexamethasone, the Nightingale hospitals and hundred times as much testing as we began this epidemic with.”
Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay said he was “very disappointed” by the new restrictions, which he fears will scare people into not going out when venues are Covid-secure.
He said: “For us the main issue is a change in sentiment. I am concerned it is getting to look like panic in Government which does not have a consistent approach to what it is trying to do.”
Neil Lloyd, managing director at law firm FBC Manby Bowdler, which has offices across Shropshire and the West Midlands, said: “We have continued throughout the relaxing of the restrictions to offer remote meetings with our legal teams. Although we have Covid-19 safe measures in place in all of our offices for when clients or our solicitors need to meet socially distanced but in person, our team still have the choice to work from home if they wish.
“We’re going to be reviewing the detail of the announcement to see if we need to adjust any of our Covid-19 safe protocols and procedures. We’re currently supporting a number of employers with legal advice on how they can best implement these fast-changing measures.”
Becky Homersley, marketing executive of Telford-based telecoms provider Network Telecom, part of Enreach, added: “Whether businesses are operating from home, from the office or a mixture of the two, is going to be constantly in review over the coming months as we all navigate the ‘new normal’. That’s why it’s so crucial for businesses to be set up ready for flexible working, able to switch between home and remote operations at the drop of a hat and with no disruption to service.”