The Prime Minister ordered all pubs and restaurants in England to close at 10pm from Thursday September 25 following concerns social distancing would not be observed by late-night revellers. Customers must also wear a face-covering in pubs, restaurants, cafés and bars whenever they are not sat at a table. In the past 48 hours, the change in rules has appeared to backfire, after pictures emerged up and down the country of large crowds gathering at the same time once venues had closed.
After 10pm, large groups of people have been seen gathering inside city centres with nowhere to go, scores of people packed onto public transport and lengthy queues outside off-licences.
Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association, said on top of the economic trouble the curfew has had on the sector, it has resulted in pub-goers “filling the streets en masse”.
The industry chief has urged ministers to consider introducing flexible closing times to combat the issue.
Ms McClarkin said: “The curfew has been another devastating blow to the beer and pub sector.
“We have invested millions in creating safe socialising environments and had been slowly winning back the confidence of our customers and rebuilding our trade.
“As we have seen this weekend, the hard 10pm curfew has led to the consequence of customers leaving venues and filling the streets en masse.
“We would like to see the hard 10pm reviewed to allow us flexibility on doors closing time and allow customers to stagger their exits.
“Having not been consulted by the Government on the announcements last week, we do stand ready to work with the Government to find the safest and most practical ways to tackle coronavirus whilst crucially keeping our businesses and the hundreds of thousands of jobs they provide alive.”
Sacha Lord, a night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, has branded the current 10pm curfew “shambolic”.
He wrote on Twitter: “It’s very clear, across the UK, that this ill-thought-out 10pm curfew, has pushed everyone out of venues with socially distanced measures, into the streets, into off-licences, supermarkets, overcrowded public transport and house parties.
“Every operator predicted this. Shambolic.”
Mr Johnson is also facing a backlash from within his own party after Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood said early closing time “makes no sense”, and pointed to figures which suggest just five percent of coronavirus cases are linked to the hospitality sector.
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He said: “There is definitely science behind it, that’s why we’re requiring people to be seated in pubs and restaurants, so that stops the flow of them to and from the bar.
“We are reducing the closing times to stop people staying later and drinking. And the point about all of this is that everyone has their part to play.
“If we all play by the rules, we can ensure that there are not further, more draconian restrictions.”