Shropshire Star

Hospitality sector calls for two-metre social distancing rule to be halved

Trade groups fear venues will have to stay shut if smaller gaps are not allowed between customers.

Social distancing signage at Borough Market

The Government should halve the two-metre social distancing rule if businesses in the hospitality industry are to survive when they finally reopen, trade organisations have warned.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and UK Hospitality fear that many venues such as pubs and restaurants will not be able to make enough money if the rule, which restricts customer numbers, stays in place.

BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “It must be recognised that no two pubs are the same and for many, ensuring a distance of two metres will be impossible, keeping them closed for much longer.

“Actioning advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) for example to use one metre for social distancing from July would enable many more pubs to viably reopen and serve their communities again.”

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At two metres you are receiving 30% of your normal revenues, at one metre it gets up to 70% – so it is the difference between success and failure for many of those businesses. They will need support if two-metre social distancing is in place.

“If that is what the science says and if that is what our public health needs, that is what we will maintain. We just need to have the additional Government support to make that workable.”

Added support through grants, loans or VAT cuts may be needed, it has been suggested.

Reopening of venues is expected to begin from July 4 in England and the Government is soon expected to publish its guidelines on how pubs, restaurants and hotels can begin to welcome customers again.

Coronavirus – Wed May 6, 2020
Boarded-up restaurants and pubs in Ashton Lane, Glasgow (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Shrinking the two-metre social distance to a one-metre limit would boost the number of the UK’s 47,000 pubs that could safely reopen from one third to three quarters, according to the BBPA.

This would enable more pub staff to return to work as the Government’s furlough scheme tapers off, reducing the risk of job losses.

The sector has also had to dispose of the equivalent of 70 million pints of beer that had gone stale.

The lockdown and good weather have seen the industry count its losses with the BBPA, which tracks sales of beer in pubs and shops, estimating that a total of 745 million pints could have been sold throughout April.

The hot late May bank holiday weekend, when Brits may have typically flocked to their local pub beer garden to soak up the sun, could have boosted sales by up to 10 million pints. The FA Cup final alone, which was due to take place that weekend, would have contributed two million pints to the overall 10 million boost.

The calls from the hospitality sector come amid reports that Sunday trading laws could be suspended for a year under Government plans to stimulate the economy amid the coronavirus crisis.

Downing Street is said to be drawing up legislation to enable larger supermarkets to open for more than six hours on Sundays, according to The Times.

The paper also said cafes and pubs would be given fast-track approval to serve food and drink outside, doing away with the need for the 28-day minimum statutory consultation period.

Former prime minister David Cameron was forced to drop plans to extend Sunday trading hours in 2016 after suffering a humiliating Commons defeat which saw 27 Tories join forces with opposition parties.

Many pubs, restaurants and cafes have been offering takeaway services during the lockdown.

A  spokesman for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “We are working at pace to develop safe ways for pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes to reopen at the earliest opportunity it is safe to do so through our pubs and restaurants taskforce.

“This work is progressing well, bringing together representatives from the industry to develop guidance as we have done for other businesses and sectors.”

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