London – Prime Minister Boris Johnson will put an end to a grueling, second national lockout in England next week under the fire of critics over the economic and social costs of its coronavirus restrictions.
But under a new set of rules announced Thursday that divides England into three levels of restriction, access to bars and restaurants will vary drastically from place to place depending on what the government assesses about the local threat posed by the virus.
This means that the more than 23 million people living in the most restricted strata still ban one of the country’s favorite activities: visiting the pub. This ban will not only disappoint visitors, but will also deprive the flooded hospitality industry of critical revenues in the run-up to Christmas, when pubs and restaurants tend to overflow.
With the advent of the festive season, Mr. Johnson has a hard time finding a balance when trying to modify the exit from the lock in a way that is not so strict that many would not adhere to it, nor is it so loose as to allow the virus to escape control.
Opinion polls generally show that the British support austerity measures and prefer health over the economy. And the risk to health remains real.
While the number of Covid-19 cases per day is declining and currently stands at around 17,500, almost 500 deaths have been reported in the last 24 hours for which data are available.
But the political setback against the new pub rules was swift when Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative Background Legislators ’influential committee of 1922, told the BBC he would vote against the three-step plan when Parliament approved it next week. Earlier government restrictions were passed despite the revolt of some Tory legislators.
“I have serious reservations on many levels,” Mr. Brady said. “I think politics was too authoritarian. I think they have tampered with people’s private and private lives in an unacceptable way. “
In its closely monitored announcement of the post-lockout rules on Thursday, the government plans to allow areas in the second half of the three levels, including London and Liverpool, to supply bars to customers ordering food. Even this recreation limits the lucrative operation of many pubs, their owners claim.
But in vast areas of the country, including much of other major cities such as Manchester and Birmingham, the government intends to impose stricter restrictions and pub and restaurant doors will be kept firmly closed when the national lock ends on 2 December.
In these highest risk areas, only service is allowed.
“With 99 percent of the country falling to tier two or tier three, it will remain closed in almost all pubs except almost all pubs during the most important trading month of the year,” said Nick Mackenzie, CEO of Greene King pub chain.
“This puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk and casts even more doubt on the future of British pubs for years to come,” he said, adding that of the chain’s more than 2,300 pubs in England, only six will be in areas where they can operate relatively normally – in the so-called first tier.
In the South of England, less than a million people live in areas with the lightest sidewalks, where bars and restaurants can operate relatively normally, while more than 55 million live in the other two strata.
But beyond the world of pubs and restaurants, the end of the closure will bring change, as even the most severe parts of England will be allowed to reopen shops, gyms and hairdressers, relaunch religious services, weddings and outdoor sports. . Merchants have the opportunity during the lucrative Christmas shopping season.
This week, Mr Johnson also announced a relaxation of social mixing rules to allow up to three households to gather between 22 and 27 December to celebrate Christmas, but health experts warn that this is likely to lead to a recovery in infections.
But much of the country, which entered the national closure with light restrictions this month, will come under stricter restrictions after Dec. 2 and raise questions about whether the government’s closures worked.
Damian Green, a Conservative Party spokesman, wrote on Twitter that it was “a huge disappointment” that Kent as a whole – a region of which he represents – was ranked third.
“We were in the first level before closing, so what did the closing achieve?” asked.
At a press conference, Mr. Johnson argued that strict restrictions are vital in controlling the spread of infections. “If we alleviate now, we run the risk of losing control of the virus again, setting aside our hard-won profits and forcing us into a New Year’s national closing time,” he said.
He added that if the government kept schools as open as it wanted, it had limited opportunities to reduce social contact.
Some critics believe that levels do not take sufficient account of local disparities within regions, while others fear that the poorest areas will be hit hardest.
On Thursday, Downing Street denied that it had escaped the most severe restrictions because of the economic importance of London and the surrounding south-east.
But the announcement threatens accusations that the north of the country suffers from restrictions rather than the south – a malicious claim by a government elected with the support of many northern voters who have traditionally sided with the opposition Labor Party.
Other critics had more fundamental objections. Steve Baker, an influential background conservative Conservative legislature, made a straightforward statement of his criticism, saying, “Today’s authoritarianism is truly terrible.”
As for hospitality, he believes many pubs may not survive the winter.
A letter signed by 50 pubs and breweries and sent to Mr. Johnson argued that “they are selected for exceptionally harsh and unreasonable treatment”.
Unless the government changes direction, “a huge portion of most British institutions will simply not be there in the spring,” he said.