Alice Hancock and Naomi Rovnick in London
Diners, drinkers and leisure industry bosses in England have criticised new coronavirus rules that force pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm, arguing they make social distancing harder and increase the risk of the virus spreading.
Westminster enforced the curfew on licensed premises on Thursday as per the government guidelines. The rule has prompted complaints on social media about people piling out of pubs and on to streets and public transport en masse. It has also raised the risk of paying expensive so-called surge prices for ride-sharing services such as Uber.
Since 2005, pubs have been allowed to open at all hours, subject to licensing from local authorities. Although many typically close at 11pm, some trade for longer resulting in a more staggered closing time.
The curfew will “devastate the sector”, said Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association. “During the current circumstances every hour of trading is crucial to the survival of pubs – for many the curfew will render their businesses unviable.”
Leisure business owners have said that the 10pm closures are persuading young people to go on to parties in people’s homes where social distancing cannot be regulated.
“If you are going to shut the doors and kick everyone out on the street, they are not just going to go home,” said Jonathan Downey, co-founder of London Union, which runs several dining and events venues across the capital.
“That is going to take young people in particular out of Covid-secure, carefully managed venues into cramped flats and house parties and other venues where the virus is going to love it,” he added.
Mr Downey expects the curfew to knock another 30 to 50 per cent off sales that were already 42 per cent of last year’s levels at his Dinerama street food market in Shoreditch.
Tim Martin, chairman of the pub chain Wetherspoon, called the curfew “another random and arbitrary move by the government which lacks logic or scientific credibility”.
He called for a model similar to Sweden’s that “emphasises social distancing, hygiene and trusting the people, rather [than] fines, threats and a reduction in civil liberties”.
On Twitter, users of the social media platform shared images of revellers leaving pubs all at once and crowding into town centres.
“[The] 10pm curfew just meant everyone rolling out onto the streets and onto the tubes at the same time and it was the busiest I’ve seen central London in months,” one Twitter user, who described herself as a member of the House of Commons staff, posted at 11pm on Thursday.