Placing London in Tier 3 would represent a “killer blow” for the capital’s hospitality venues, the UK’s leading business bodies have told City A.M, amid fears that tougher restrictions lie on the horizon following a rise in infections.
Latest data from Public Health England showed that London’s infection rate now stands at 169.6 per 100,000 — around 13 per cent higher than the national average.
A spike in cases in 21 out of 32 London boroughs in the week to 2 December has stoked concerns that London may join regions such as Manchester and Birmingham in the highest level of restrictions.
But major business figures have cautioned against the move, warning that it could spell permanent closure for businesses already on their knees after England’s month-long national lockdown.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, told City A.M. that “the prospect of London moving into Tier 3 would deliver a killer blow that many hospitality businesses simply wouldn’t recover from”.
“Hospitality has continued to take on a disproportionate burden to allow other parts of the economy to reopen during this crisis,” she said. “These businesses have invested significant time, effort and money to create Covid-secure spaces, and they can play a role in keeping transmission rates down.”
Nicholls pointed fingers at the retail industry for the recent spike in infections, after the capital’s major shopping destinations saw a 93.5 per cent jump in footfall over the weekend.
“The increase in infections that are being reported in London boroughs are also not a result of the recent reopening of the hospitality sector, as we know due to the incubation period of the disease,” she said.
“Any harsher restrictions placed on the capital’s hospitality sector would have questionable effect on reducing transmission whilst plunging the sector into an even deeper crisis that would result in many more business failures and jobs lost.”
More than 25,000 UK hospitality venues have already buckled under the weight of the pandemic, with industry figures warning that hundreds of thousands of redundancies linger on the horizon as the tier system looks set to stay until the spring.
Pubs are allowed to stay open under Tier 2 restrictions only if they provide a “substantial meal” alongside alcohol, while other hospitality venues including casinos and bars can only stay open until 11pm.
Meanwhile, all hospitality venues must shut under Tier 3 restrictions and can only provide food via takeaway, delivery and click and collect services.
London mayor Sadiq Khan this morning warned that placing London in Tier 3 would be “catastrophic” for businesses already struggling in the run-up to Christmas, and “could mean many shops, bars, pubs and restaurants going bust.”
Speaking in the Commons today, health secretary Matt Hancock said he was “concerned” by a rise in cases across London, Essex, and parts of Kent, but added that the capital could avoid a shift to the highest level of restrictions “if Londoners stick to the rules”.
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), urged the government to set out further support measures before announcing any fresh restrictions for the capital.
Kill told City A.M: “It’s hugely concerning that cases are rising, with a potential for further restrictions if London moves into Tier 3, but I can only reiterate that given the limitations faced by the restrictions against the hospitality sector we continue to be Covid-safe.”
“However there are concerns around the behaviour evidenced from the weekend across other sectors, and with this it’s hardly surprising that London is under scrutiny once again. Let’s just hope that government [is] as swift in its proportionate financial support as it is in placing restrictions on businesses within this key trading period.”
The night-time economy is the UK’s fifth-biggest industry, accounting for at least eight per cent of the UK’s employment and annual revenues of £66bn, according to data from the NTIA.
And London’s night time economy directly supports 723,000 jobs — one in eight in the capital, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The business body, which represents more than 1,200 bars, clubs, casinos and music venues across the country, last week warned that the new tier system will cause three-quarters of the country’s night-time venues to shut forever.
‘Covid behaves like clockwork’
Ministers and health officials are set to meet on 16 December to review tier allocations across the country — just over a week before Christmas Day.
Local restrictions are set to be eased between 23 and 27 December to allow for festive gatherings, which will see up to three households allowed to mix.
Professor Kevin Fenton, London director for Public Health England, told City A.M. the capital must “work together” to prevent a surge in cases.
“Covid-19 behaves like clockwork — the more contact we have with others, the higher the chance of us catching or spreading the virus,” he said. “If we want to keep infections down, every one of us needs to remain vigilant and follow the rules as we go about shopping, eating out or meeting friends outdoors.”
“We’ll need to work together to prevent a big surge in cases in London ahead of the festive period so we must all do our bit and limit the spread over the coming days and weeks.”