Restaurants and cafés in London’s Soho area have been forced to rip up their reservation lists as the new Covid-19 restrictions and ‘working from home’ guidance scares punters off the West End.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s guidance for people to “work from home if possible” began on Monday although some hospitality businesses witnessed an immediate drop-off despite the PM’s insistence that there was “no need” for people to cancel their Christmas parties.
Dini, the director of My Place Soho on Berwick Street said, “today and the whole of this week, everything has been cancelled. We were fully booked until Friday, but it’s all been cancelled.”
The road is usually an escape from the city’s humdrum, but yesterday it was noticeably quieter and many of the cafés there were void of any festive liveliness.
However, the West End district was still teeming with Christmas revellers. Near the Prince Edward and Palace theatres, people were enjoying drinks at The Spice of Life pub and music bar. It may not remain this way for long as several showings of Life of Pi and The Lion King have already been cancelled due to Covid-19 cases among cast and crew members.
Patrick, the general manager of The Spice of Life, said that there were “tens of thousands of pounds of bookings” that have been cancelled over the ten-day period leading up to Christmas. “We put in a lot of planning and effort in coordinating it all. We’ve gone through the hard work and actually the fun bit is hosting those parties and now they’ve all dropped out.”
Inside a pub at St Christopher’s Place, the Lamb & Flag, it was busy and cheery with no sense of impending Omicron doom. Charlotte, the assistant manager, poured pints for customers while speaking over the noise.
She said, “We’ve had two cancellations week and that’s all for now. Fingers crossed that others will keep their reservations.”
She is hopeful that the pub’s position in central London next to Selfridges will mean that customers will continue to keep coming in from their shopping during the holiday period.
Businesses fear tightening restrictions as Omicron variant spreads
This comes as the government have urged the public to get their booster jabs, after the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) found that two Covid-19 vaccine doses do not protect against the Omicron variant.
As of yesterday, the total confirmed number of Omicron cases was 4,700. However, according to an estimate from the UKHSA, Omicron infections in the UK are actually at a much higher rate of 200,000 per day. The UK recorded its first death from the new variant yesterday.
Government health guidance last week advised that face masks should be worn indoors in more public spaces, including cinemas, theatres and places of worship. Although pubs, bars and restaurants were omitted from this, the British Medical Association have called for a return to masks in hospitality settings.
Dini is worried about the Christmas period because his business went through a tough time during Covid: “We had to pay the food and rent; we had no help from the government. We just started getting people back but now business has gone down again.”
He added that if another lockdown happened, “I don’t know if we’ll survive next year or not. We’d just need to hang up the keys and give them back to the landlord.”
At such a lucrative time for the hospitality industry, Charlotte said that another lockdown would affect them “massively”. “We’re really hoping for no more lockdowns.”
Johnson has refused to rule out further restrictions.
While pending announcements about Covid-19 are leaving many questions unanswered, pressure on the government for more business support is mounting. The International Monetary Fund has said that the furlough scheme should be redeployed in Britain if a wave of Omicron causes “widespread mandated closures.”