Lockdown relaxed for hospitality industry and social distancing eased

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Venues including pubs, restaurants, cinemas, galleries and hairdressers in England will be allowed to reopen on 4 July, as social distancing measures are relaxed.

Announcing the lockdown relaxation today, Boris Johnson said people should still be encouraged to keep 2 metres apart, but where this is not possible workplaces should adopt a “one metre plus” approach.

Detailed guidance to allow these organisations to reopen safely is also expected to be published and is thought to contain measures such as one-way systems, pre-booked tickets and increased ventilation.

Workplaces allowed to reopen include:

  • Pubs, bars and restaurants – but only with table service indoors and customers’ contact details will need to be taken to help with contact tracing
  • Hotels, holiday apartments, campsites and caravan parks – but shared facilities must be cleaned thoroughly
  • Theatres and music halls – but they will not be allowed to hold live performances
  • Hair salons and barbers – but with protective measures, such as visors, in place.

Leisure facilities such as gyms, swimming pools, bowling alleys, nightclubs and casinos must remain closed.

Julian Cox, a lawyer at BLM, said: “The move to 1 metre+ and the reopening of bars and restaurants symbolises the government’s attempt to return to some normality, but also wind down its current level of support. Employers will no doubt be considering the contributions they have to make towards furlough payments which will begin in August, before the scheme closes in November. So whilst a reopening of the sector will go some way to helping businesses recover, there are still months of lost trade and customer wariness to contend with.

“While the country continues to recover from Covid-19 we won’t see the sector bounce back to normality immediately and revenue will remain relatively low in comparison to pre-Covid, so it’s very likely we’ll still see large-scale redundancies coming down the line, even for those who reopen the doors next week.”

Jane Pendlebury, the CEO of HOSPA, the Hospitality Professionals Association, said the announcement was a “huge relief” for the industry.

“Reducing the social distancing measures will have a huge impact. To outline the difference it makes, revenue management modelling suggests that 2-metre social distancing, which effectively creates a 4-metre diameter, reduces restaurant revenue to as little as 7% – a non-viable return given the factors involved,” she said.

“This changes considerably though as the distance is reduced. The proposed 1-metre distancing, equating to a 2-metre diameter of space, allows for around 45% of revenue. While this is still a huge reduction, if hoteliers and other restaurateurs are creative in their approach, they can work to increase those margins by implementing a variety of measures. This, at least gives them a chance to head in the right direction, enabling the opportunity to develop a workable service.

“Of course, safety is paramount and our priority is opening safely, for both guests and staff, but this offers the industry, if not exactly an open door to a return, then certainly a workable margin. No doubt there’ll be muted celebrations in hotels all around the country as we look to start moving forward again.”

However, some have said changing the 2 metre rule would be confusing and inconvenient for employers that have only just reopened their workplaces.

Elliott Kenton from law firm Fieldfisher, said: “Although the two-metre rule was always subject to change in accordance with the prevalence of Covid-19 in the population, there is a question about consistency between this relaxation and the detailed ‘Covid-Secure’ guidelines the government produced for businesses in May.

“Many workplaces have already spent time and money implementing systems and procedures to staff can work two metres apart. In some cases, this has involved reducing workplace capacity limits, reconfiguring workspaces and erecting barriers. Many businesses may now wonder whether their efforts have been wasted and whether they need to adapt these measures in light of the relaxation of the two-metre rule.

“The good news for businesses that have invested in Covid-Secure reconfigurations and processes is that, although they may wish to revisit their risk assessments if the rule is relaxed, it is likely that many of the social distancing control measures included will still be relevant.”

Doug Russell, health and safety officer for shopworkers’ union Usdaw, said changing the 2 metre social distancing guidance now would be costly, given the signage and markers that have been introduced in many stores.

He told the Guardian: “A lot of hard work has gone into figuring out how you could get the message across for 2 metres and to be honest it’s not perfect but a sudden change of direction through the process would be a nightmare.

“Already one of the key triggers of arguments and fights is over physical separation, if you get a situation where half the population thinks social distancing is over, and the other half are very scared about getting too close, then this could lead to problems.”

Yesterday, health secretary Matt Hancock said the coronavirus was “in retreat” and that England was “on track” to ease lockdown restrictions next month. However, No 10 has warned that restrictions will be reintroduced if there is a spike of infections.

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