England’s Lockdown Will Elevate, however Many Pub Doorways Will Keep Closed

LONDON – Under fire from critics over the economic and social cost of its coronavirus restrictions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will end a grueling second national lockdown in England next week.

Access to bars and restaurants will vary dramatically from place to place, depending on the government’s assessment of the local threat posed by the virus, according to a new set of rules announced on Thursday that divides England into three levels of restrictions.

And that means the 23 million plus people who live in the most restricted level are still facing a ban on one of the country’s favorite activities: a visit to the pub. This ban will not only disappoint customers, but will also steal critical revenue from the beleaguered hospitality sector before Christmas, when pubs and restaurants are usually overcrowded.

With the holiday season coming, Mr Johnson has a difficult balance to find in trying to tweak the outcome of the lockdown so that it is neither so strict that many do not obey it, nor so lax that the virus comes out of control.

Opinion polls generally show that Britons support strict policies and prefer to prioritize health over economy. And the health risk remains real.

While the daily number of Covid-19 cases is falling and is now around 17,500, nearly 500 deaths have been announced in the last 24 hours for which data are available.

The political backlash against the new pub rules was quick, however, when Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Conservative Backbench Legislators, told the BBC that he would vote against the three-step plan when it goes to Parliament for approval next week becomes. Previous state restrictions were approved despite an uprising from some Tory lawmakers.

“I have strong reservations on so many different levels,” said Brady. “I think politics was way too authoritarian. I think they have meddled in people’s private and private lives in an unacceptable way. “

In Thursday’s closely watched post-lockdown announcement, the government said it plans to allow bars to serve alcohol to customers ordering groceries in areas on two of the three levels, including London and Liverpool. However, even this relaxation will limit the ability of many pubs to operate profitably, say their owners.

But across much of the country, including most of the other major cities like Manchester and Birmingham, the government wants to put in place stricter restrictions, with the doors of pubs and restaurants tightly closed when the national lockdown ends on December 2nd.

Only one take-away service is allowed in these highest risk areas.

“With 99 percent of the land in levels two or three, this will remain closed to almost all but name pubs during the most important trading month of the year,” said Nick Mackenzie, managing director of Greene King pub chain.

“This puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk and puts the future of UK pubs in even greater doubt for years to come,” he said, adding that of the 2,300+ pubs in his chain in England, only six will be in areas where they are relative can work normally – in the so-called first stage.

Less than a million people in the south of England will live in areas under the lightest of curbs where bars and restaurants can function relatively normally, while more than 55 million live in the other two levels.

But beyond the world of pubs and restaurants, the end of the lockdown will make a difference as shops, gyms and hairdressers can reopen, and religious services, weddings and outdoor sports can resume even in the worst-hit parts of England. Retailers have the option to open during the lucrative Christmas shopping season.

This week, Mr Johnson also announced plans to relax social mingling rules to allow up to three households to gather to celebrate Christmas from December 22-27. However, health experts warn that doing so is likely to lead to a surge in infections.

But large swaths of the country that entered the national lockdown with slight restrictions this month will be postponed in tighter restrictions after December 2, raising questions about whether the government lockdowns have worked.

Damian Green, a Conservative Party lawmaker, wrote on Twitter that he was “extremely disappointed” that all of Kent, a region he represents some, has been placed in the third tier.

“Before the lockdown, we were in the first stage. What did the lockdown achieve?” he asked.

At a press conference, Mr Johnson argued that tight restrictions were critical to controlling the spread of infection. “If we slack off now, we risk losing control of this virus again, tossing aside our hard-won gains and forcing ourselves back into a national New Year’s lockdown,” he said.

He added that the government’s ability to reduce social contact would be limited if the government kept schools open at will.

Some critics believe that the levels do not adequately reflect local differences within regions, while others fear that some of the poorest areas will be hardest hit.

On Thursday, Downing Street denied that London and the surrounding southeast had been saved from the toughest restrictions because of its economic importance.

However, the announcement threatens to fuel accusations that the north of the country is more restricted than the south – a damaging claim for a government elected with the support of many northern voters who traditionally sided with the opposition Labor Party had asked.

Other critics had more fundamental objections. Steve Baker, an influential conservative lawmaker, was frank and critical: “The authoritarianism at work today is really appalling.”

The hospitality industry believes that many pubs may not survive winter.

A letter signed by 50 pub and breweries and sent to Mr Johnson argued that they were “being selected for exceptionally harsh and unjustified treatment”.

Unless the government changes course, “large parts of most of these UK institutions just won’t be there by the spring,” it said.

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