The UK’s pubs and restaurants have called on the government to offer urgent financial help after Boris Johnson advised people to avoid social gatherings, in what could be a death knell for London’s pubs, restaurants and leisure businesses.
The prime minister urged the public to practice “social distancing” by staying at home rather than eating out or going to the pub or theatre in a bid to delay the spread of the coronavirus.
He stressed that Londoners in particular should be cautious about attending venues or small gatherings as the spread of the disease is around two weeks more advanced in the capital.
Johnson stopped short of forcing pubs and restaurants to close, although many businesses are already struggling with a sharp decline in footfall and will have to lay off staff in the coming days.
“This is catastrophic for businesses and jobs,” UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said.
“The government has effectively shut the hospitality industry without any support, and this announcement will lead to thousands of businesses closing their doors for good, and hundreds of thousands of job losses. “
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, added that the coronavirus outbreak has “now impacted pubs with devastating effect”.
“The very existence of some pubs is now at threat,” she said.
Hospitality venues in London had already reported a 47 per cent drop in year on year footfall on Sunday and some firms are around a month away from running out of cash.
Jonathan Downey, the chief executive of street food market operator London Union said the decision to advise customers to stay at home rather than close venues is a “passive aggressive lockdown”.
He said some venues would be forced to close due to a lack of visitors but would not be able to claim on insurance without government intervention.
“It strikes me that they are just not listening, I have lost faith after that press conference. I understand how they are saving lives, but I don’t understand how they are planning to save livelihoods.”
Meanwhile, all Society of London Theatre venues including the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe and most West End theatres announced they would close immediately.
The hospitality and leisure sector has called on the government to step in urgently to relieve some of the financial pressure on businesses, including business rates cuts, rent holidays and covering staff salaries.
McClarkin added: “The Government must urgently step in and provide a package of support for our sector which employs nearly a million people in all parts of the UK.
“Urgent measures to ensure cash flow and cost reduction is of absolute necessity. Government action now can save jobs and save pubs.
“Support for pubs now is an investment in the long-term future of communities across the UK and without it we risk losing our community assets forever. The Government needs to give clear instructions and detail on the support package to rescue the sector and hundreds of thousands of jobs.”