Pubs In England Can Stay Open Under Toughest Lockdown... If They Serve Meals

Arj Singh
·Deputy Political Editor, HuffPost UK
·6-min read

Restaurants and pubs that serve substantial meals will be spared from closure even under the toughest local lockdowns in England.

Boris Johnson has announced a new three-tier system for local coronavirus restrictions in England.

The prime minister revealed the details of what restrictions apply at which Covid alert level – called medium, high, and very high – in the Commons on Monday.

He revealed pubs and bars will close if they fall within areas covered by the strictest restrictions in the “very high” level. Betting shops, gyms and casinos will also shut.

But PA Media reports restaurants and pubs that serve meals will be spared from closure even under the strictest restrictions in the “very high” level. Customers will need to buy a meal to be served alcohol.

People at that level of lockdown will be advised that they should not travel to other areas. It is understood that Johnson is happy for travel restrictions to apply only as guidance rather than law after seeing how people Leicester complied with the measure during the city’s lockdown.

Restrictions at the “very high” level can be tightened if the government and local leaders decide more venues need to close.

Around £1bn of “new financial support” will also be provided to local authorities for local contact tracing and enforcement of the rules, the PM announced.

It has been widely reported that Merseyside will enter the “very high” level of restrictions from Wednesday, with additional closures of gyms, leisure centres, betting shops, adult gaming centres and casinos after an agreement with local leaders.

But HuffPost UK understands that local MPs were told by health secretary Matt Hancock that Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire would avoid the harshest restrictions, instead being placed in the “high” tier, which largely reflects current local lockdown measures and includes a ban on households mixing indoors.

However, Johnson said talks with leaders in the north-west, north-east and Yorkshire and the Humber were “ongoing”.

Nottinghamshire, which has been hit by a huge surge in infection rates, will be placed in the “high” level. Nottingham itself now has an average 715.8 infections per 100,000 people, by far the highest level anywhere in England, according to latest NHS data.

Every area in England will be allocated a Covid alert level, with the full list set to be published later on Monday.

A postcode checker will be launched on the government’s website to advise people what guidance applies to their area.

The broad level of restrictions will apply as follows from Wednesday and will initially apply for four weeks before a review:

Medium: Existing national measures including the rule of six and 10pm curfew for hospitality venues to close.

High: A ban on households mixing indoors. Areas subject to current local restrictions will automatically move into this.

Very high: A ban on social mixing indoors and in gardens, and the closure of pubs and bars unless they serve substantial meals. Ministers can work with local leaders to decide if more closures are required – for example, of all pubs, gyms or casinos, which Johnson said would happen in Liverpool. Non-essential retail, schools and universities will remain open. Two households will be able to meet outside in a public space, for example a park, as long as they adhere to the rule of six. They will not be able to meet in gardens, hospitality or ticketed events. People will be advised not to travel out of their local area.

Johnson said the R rate – the average number of people an infected person passes Covid-19 on to – was between 1.2 and 1.5, but that without restrictions it will go up to between 2.7 to 3.

The PM said he was introducing the measures to further bring the R rate down to 1 or below, and had devised the three-tier system to try and simplify an approach which had become “complex to understand and to enforce”.

He rejected a full national lockdown, telling MPs: “We would not only be depriving our children of their education, we would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long-term ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services.”

But he also dismissed suggestions that younger people should be removed from restrictions entirely because they are at a low risk of dying from Covid-19, arguing that the NHS would become overwhelmed in an “uncontrolled second spike”.

He said: “It is no answer to say we could let the virus take hold among the young and fit while shielding the elderly and vulnerable because the virus would spread with such velocity in the general population that there would be no way of stopping it from spreading among the elderly.

“And even if the virus is less lethal for the under-60s, there would still be many younger people for whom, alas, it remains lethal.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer said he is “sceptical” whether the government has a plan to get control of the virus.

The Labour leader said: “Nobody should be under any illusion about where this is heading, or of the need for decisive action.

“The question today is whether the restrictions announced by the prime minister can bring the country back from the brink, whether they can regain control of the virus and provide the support and confidence that local businesses and communities need. That is how high the stakes now are.

“So we will consider the package, we will look at the small print of the prime minister’s statement, we will discuss them with local mayors, councillors and leaders in the areas most affected and we’ll scrutinise the economic package that sits alongside them.

“But I have to say to the prime minister, I am now deeply sceptical that the government has actually got a plan to get control of this virus, to protect jobs or retain public trust.”

The PM’s announcement came after NHS England medical director Stephen Powis announced that temporary Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Harrogate and Sunderland have been asked to mobilise to deal with a rise in coronavirus patients.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam meanwhile told the same No.10 briefing there had clearly been a “marked pick-up” in coronavirus cases, which would result in more deaths.

He said more deaths were now “baked in” as the infection rate was “creeping” from those aged 16 to 29 to older, more vulnerable groups.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.