A government minister has floated the idea of potentially extending England’s hospitality curfew to 11pm – the same as Northern Ireland.
London minister Paul Scully told a virtual event today that a curfew extension would be a lifeline to the hospitality sector, but that the government needed to examine how effective Northern Ireland’s 11pm lock out had been in curbing the spread of Covid.
The new England curfew has hit the already ailing hospitality sector’s revenues, with more than a thousands pubs asking Rishi Sunak for extra financial support this past weekend.
Pub chain Greene King announced yesterday that the curfew had forced it to shut 26 pubs, putting hundreds of jobs at risk.
There has also been disquiet about the curfew in parliament, with a growing group of Tory MPs ready to vote against the measure when it comes to a vote next week.
Scully today admitted that the curfew “kills [restaurants’] second sittings and for pubs [after 10pm] is one of their high sales points”.
He said the government was keeping an eye on the situation in Northern Ireland, which has a last drinks at 10.30pm and lock out at 11pm policy.
“In Northern Ireland they have a 10.30pm last orders and they stop serving at 11pm – something like that would benefit hospitality massively, because the economics are far better there,” he said.
“We’re not able to work out yet about the transmission rate in Northern Ireland – they’re a lot higher anyway – so we’ll see the trend over the next few days.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer yesterday also urged Boris Johnson to provide scientific evidence that shows a curfew has any effect in stopping the virus.
Scenes emerged on social media last week of overflowing Tube stations and street parties shortly after 10pm, leading some to speculate the curfew could in fact help spread Covid.
Scully said evidence he had seen indicated that the virus was being spread in “informal settings” during the country’s second wave, meaning that hospitality venues were hot spots.
A Downing Street spokesperson also said today that a “significant proportion” of England’s Covid exposure comes from hospitality venues.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pubs Association, said when the curfew was announced two weeks ago that it would be “devastating” for the pub trade.
“Pubs were struggling to break even before [the curfew] and these latest restrictions will push some to breaking point,” she said.
“Removing a key trading hour on top of fragile consumer confidence and the reduced capacity pubs already face will put thousands more pubs and jobs at risk.”