Andy Burnham has called for an “urgent review” of the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants, insisting the restriction “is doing more harm than good” in the government’s fight against coronavirus.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester’s remarks came as ministers faced calls to rethink the policy following images of drinkers crowding on streets in cities across the country and long queues for public transport and off licences during the first weekend of enforcement.
“I received reports that the supermarkets were absolutely packed out to the rafters with people gathering,” Mr Burnham told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “I think there needs to be an urgent review of the emerging evidence from police forces across the country.”
“My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good. It’s potentially contradictory because it creates an incentive for people to gather in the streets or more probably gather in the home. I don’t think this has been fully thought through to be honest.
Pressed on whether he would like to see the curfew lifted, the Labour politician replied: “My gut feeling would say it probably should.
“I can understand what the government is trying to do. Let me give you a couple of suggestions – perhaps if there was a 9pm curfew on sale of alcohol in supermarkets and shops that would prevent the rush to shops once the pubs have closed and that is what we certainly saw on Saturday.
“My personal feeling is the curfew is probably doing more harm than good. The government needs to give some urgent consideration to this.”
Responding to his comments the health minister Helen Whateley said it was “clearly early days” with the restriction being introduced just four days ago, and urged those leaving pubs and restaurants at 10pm to consider the “consequences” of their actions.
Defending the curfew, she also told BBC1 Breakfast programme: “As people drink more they tend to socially distance less. So one approach to keeping people socially distant is to limit the amount of time that people are in places where they are drink and then this breaking down of compliance with the rules.”
"We have also seen in some of the places where there have been higher rates over the summer that sometimes bars have been the places where there has been an outbreak so this is a reason why one of the actions we have taken is to have people stopping being out drinking at an earlier time."
Following reports that Boris Johnson is considering imposing tighter social restrictions across vast swathes of England, the minister said the government could not rule out further action if coronavirus infections continue to surge.
"We don't want to bring in more restrictions but of course we keep a constant eye on what's going with the Covid rates and we have seen these upward trends in recent weeks," she told Sky News. "This is the moment in time we have an opportunity, we have a choice as a country to get this back down under control.
"We have to break these chains of transmission. That's the way we get the rates back down again. We have seen them going up again in the last two weeks."