Reopened businesses call for clarity on social distancing end date

·4-min read

Hospitality and entertainment businesses in Wales have called for clarity on when social distancing rules can be lifted as they welcomed customers indoors.

Monday’s easing of coronavirus restrictions saw pints served in pubs, meals dished out inside restaurants, and film fans attending screenings in cinemas for the first time since December.

But social distancing rules and a six-person limit on groups means many businesses are having to operate at reduced capacity, with no indication yet from the Welsh Government if the restrictions will be lifted this summer.

The Government has announced that businesses still affected by restrictions can claim additional financial support of up to £25,000 to help meet ongoing costs.

Coronavirus – Mon May 17, 2021
Cinema audiences watch Nomadland at Chapter, Cardiff, as indoor hospitality and entertainment venues reopen to the public (Ben Birchall/PA)

At the Chapter arts centre in Canton, Cardiff, only a maximum of 40 people were allowed inside one of its cinema auditoriums for a screening of the best picture Oscar winner Nomadland, representing 20% of its normal capacity.

Cinema programme manager Claire Vaughan said it was “exciting” to be able to welcome audiences back, but said there were concerns about how the ongoing restrictions would affect the business.

She told the PA news agency: “There is an anxiety about how long we can exist at this reduced capacity.

“It does worry me at that level of audiences coming in doesn’t give us very much of a profit. And so having that go on for a really long time would be difficult.”

Ms Vaughan said the cinema was enjoying its best-ever year before Covid struck, and hoped that the release of a number of highly anticipated films such as Nomadland would see audiences return to support the 50-year-old venue.

Customers at The Borough pub in Cardiff
Customers at the Borough pub in Cardiff (Ben Birchall/PA)

The Deep bar in Cardiff city centre opened last year as a live music venue, but has so far been unable to accommodate performances due to the restrictions.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has said places such as live music venues and nightclubs would come “towards the end of the reopening queue” and that considerations would only take place “towards the end of June and into July”.

Scott Hillen, the bar’s general manager, told PA: “Our bread and butter is meant to be live music, and there’s only so many drinks we can sell with the maximum amount of people we can have in, so it’s going to be very tight for us.

“On the flip-side of the doom and gloom, everyone’s excited to come back to the place because we still play music, and people will come here for the drink and food. I’m excited to get back inside.”

Mr Hillen added that there had been “no clarity” from the Government on when businesses like his could offer live performances.

Coronavirus – Mon May 17, 2021
People enjoy a breakfast and coffee seated indoors at Coffee Barker, Cardiff (Ben Birchall/PA)

Jeff Richards, who runs the nearby Borough pub, said he wanted the First Minister to commit to scrapping all social distancing restrictions on June 21, per the UK Government’s plan for England.

He told PA: “Why don’t they do it all together? Masks off, social distancing gone, let people decide for themselves.”

Some of the first people to make the most out of the eased rules were couple Stephen and Sandra Foley, who travelled from their home in Bridgend to spend Monday morning in their favourite cafe, Coffee Barker in Cardiff city centre.

Mr Foley, 72, told PA: “It’s a big day, this is. We’ve been waiting a long time for it all to open up again.”

Monday’s changes also see all tourist accommodation being able to reopen as well as indoor visitor attractions, including museums and galleries, while up to 30 people will also be able to take part in organised indoor events and up to 50 people in organised outdoor events.

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Mitigations to support the opening of hospitality indoors from today have been developed with industry stakeholders and we will continue regular dialogue with the sector.

“Further details on any changes to restrictions in Wales will be announced at the next review of the regulations.”

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