Hospitality chiefs have tonight called on Boris Johnson to drop crippling social distancing and table service rules for England’s pubs and restaurants.
The Prime Minister tonight gave the green light for the country to take another huge step out of lockdown on Monday.
Pubs, bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen indoor areas from May 17, while up to six people will be allowed to meet indoors and up to 30 people will be allowed to meet outdoors.
In another huge boost for businesses, the Premier also hinted that social distancing measures – such as the one metre plus rule – could be relaxed as early June 21.
But he stopped short of guaranteeing and end to all restrictions next month.
It means that pubs and bars will have to follow rules such as mandatory table service and capacity restrictions when they reopen indoor areas on Monday.
Hospitality chiefs say the rules could seriously hamper the industry’s recovery after more than a year of closures and restrictions.
And they are now urging the Government to lift the measures ‘as soon as is safe’.
Sacha Lord, Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, said: ‘While I welcome today’s announcement, we need to remember that hospitality operators across the country are not yet out of the woods.
Sacha Lord, Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, said the hospitality industry was ‘not yet out of the woods’
Pubs and bars will still have to follow rules such as mandatory table service and restrictions on customer capacity when they reopen indoor areas on Monday
The Prime Minister tonight gave the green light for the country to take another huge step out of lockdown on Monday, with the reopening of indoor hospitality areas being one of the major changes
‘Many will be reopening for the first time this year, and all will be in financially precarious positions that will affect them for years to come.’
‘Although they will be allowed to reopen from next week, operators will continue to make a loss while measures such as social distancing, capacity limits and table service are still in place.’
Mr Lord, whose recent bid to High Court bid urging the Government to lift indoor restrictions before May 17 was thrown out by judges, added: ‘Keeping people safe must always be the priority, however we need to ensure these measures are withdrawn as soon as is safe, and prior to the 21 June date if the data presents the opportunity to do so.
‘Removing these measures will be crucial to the financial viability and survival of many operators.’
The call was backed by industry body, UK Hospitality, whose boss Kate Nicholls said: ‘With significant restrictions still in place, this is a psychological opening rather than an economic one, with the profitability of the sector still a huge issue.
‘This is why sticking to the roadmap and the removal of all restrictions by June 21 is absolutely crucial, enabling venues to finally operate in viable conditions, after fourteen months of severely disrupted trading.
‘Hospitality, as it emerges from restrictions, is still in a fragile state and continued Government support will be critical to ensuring the sector is rejuvenated and plays a full role in the wider economic recovery.’
The call comes as Mr Johnson tonight batted away calls for lockdown to be eased faster as he talked up the latest relaxations – with pints inside the pub back from Monday, along with hugs for friends and family and staycations.
The PM hailed a ‘very considerable step on the road back to normality’ as he said planned easings will go ahead in England on May 17.
But flanked by medical and science chiefs Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance at a Downing Street briefing, he urged people to be cautious, saying the country must remain ‘vigilant’ about fuelling cases and the threat from variants.
Pouring cold water on the idea that the next milestone of June 21 could be brought forward, he insisted it will take time to assess the impact of this wave of loosening.
However, he did attempt to sweeten the pill by hinting that social distancing might be dropped altogether at that point, and the idea of Covid certificates might be abandoned.
As of Monday groups of six or two households will be allowed to meet indoors for the first time in months.
Overnight visits will also be allowed, while outdoors the limit will rise to 30 in the most significant loosening yet.
Staycations can also get properly up and running, with hotels and B&Bs that do not have self-catering facilities permitted to open – as well as cinemas and theatres if audiences wear masks.
Crucially the government has decided the risk is now low enough that social distancing can be left more to ‘personal choice’ – meaning that while people are urged to be ‘cautious’, hugs are allowed at private gatherings.
The move to downgrade the alert level — agreed by all four of the UK’s chief medical officers and a senior NHS official — means the coronavirus is now only in ‘general circulation’ and transmission is no longer ‘high or rising exponentially’
However, despite the very low infection rate and stunning vaccine rollout, social distancing rules will still be maintained at bars and restaurants.
Together with a requirement for table service indoors, the hospitality industry warned it is more a ‘psychological opening rather than an economic one’ and many venues will still struggle to make ends meet.
Advice to work from home where possible will also stay in place.
In other elements of the changes from next week, the much-criticised cap on the number of mourners at funerals will be lifted, while up to 30 people will be allowed at weddings and other life events.
Indoor sport and exercise classes can restart, along with sauna and steamrooms. And secondary pupils will no longer need to wear masks at schools in England.
In a huge relief for many isolated elderly people and their families, care home residents will be able to have up to five named visitors – and up to two at once provided they are tested and follow guidelines. Residents will also have greater freedom to leave homes without having to isolate afterwards.
As announced by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last week, a step is also being taken towards bringing back foreign holidays, with no quarantine requirements for those returning from 12 countries on the so-called green list.
Mr Johnson thanked the public for their commitment as he said infections were now at the ‘lowest level since last July’. ‘The data now support moving to step three in England from next Monday 17th May,’ he said.
The positive news came as the UK’s Covid alert level was downgraded to three amid the success of the vaccination roll-out and dwindling case numbers.
Health chiefs say infections, hospital admissions and deaths have ‘fallen consistently’ over the past few months, with social distancing measures and the huge inoculation drive to thank.
The decision by all four chief medical officers and a senior NHS official means coronavirus is now only in ‘general circulation’ and transmission is no longer ‘high or rising exponentially’.
It will inevitably be used as fuel for scientists and Tories desperate for a quicker return to normal. Even one of No10’s scientific advisers on a sub-panel of SAGE has claimed restrictions could be ‘safely accelerated’.
The Prime Minister has been repeatedly urged to stick to his ‘data, not dates’ pledge for easing restrictions in England, despite refusing to budge in the face of very low infection rates and a hugely successful vaccination drive. Deaths have fallen into single figures while cases are at similar levels to September.
Earlier, health minister Nadine Dorries set hares running by seeming to suggest the June 21 date for ending lockdown altogether could be brought forward.
But Mr Johnson this evening insisted that the roadmap was still on track for the existing deadline – merely insisting that the government would be giving businesses more warning than planned about exactly what will happen after June 21.
He said that would include information about what role there would be ‘if any for certification and social distancing’.
‘I think at the moment it looks to me as if we might be able to dispense with the metre plus rule,’ the premier said.