Sector warns of Plan B 'devastation' as Chancellor looks to assuage lockdown fears

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Sector warns of Plan B 'devastation' as Chancellor looks to assuage lockdown fears

Related tags Vaccine passport Coronavirus lockdown ukhospitality

Hospitality leaders have warned that the use of 'Plan B' measures to curb the rise in Coronavirus cases could 'decimate' the sector.

Amid a surge in Covid infections, there have been mounting calls for the Government to implement its contingency plan​, which would see the introduction of mandatory Covid vaccine certificates (commonly referred to as 'vaccine passports') for nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues; compulsory face masks across most indoor settings; and advice for people to work from home if they can.

This morning (25 October), Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the BBC ​that the Government needs to bring in the extra protections.

He said: "We could be looking at infection rates of between 30,000 and 50,000 a day over the coming weeks and months - that is a high level of sickness in society, which will put pressure on the NHS as we go into winter."

However, the sector has warned that the introduction of tougher 'Plan B' measures could risk a ‘second lost Christmas’.

Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers, told The Guardian​that ministers had left it too late to address rising case numbers and that any action now could devastate the industry.

“People are very nervous and if you move to plan B, it puts Christmas at risk,” he said.

“The industry is not out of the woods and just as we get our momentum back, we’d have the rug pulled out from under us.”

Urban added that some restrictions, such as mask-wearing, would be tolerable as long as tougher curbs that could put festive trade at risk were avoided.

Simon Mitchell, chief executive of business incubator and food market operator KERB, has warned that asking people to work from home over the winter will 'kill' hospitality businesses in town centres across the country.

In a tweet directed at high-profile politicians including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Mitchell said​: "Plan B will decimate every hospitality business in every city centre.

"Working from home means no customers. Are you happy to destroy hospitality and those employed in it?"

His words were echoed by Inception Group Charlie Gilkes, who said​: "The economic impact of 'Plan B' can’t be underestimated.

"Whilst mask wearing should have little effect the work from home directive would devastate city and town centre economies just starting to get back on their feet in their most important two months of trading."

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls, said businesses typically earn 40% of their annual profit between Halloween and New Year’s Eve.

“We lost Christmas in its entirety last year, so it’s desperately important for survivability, getting you through the bleak months of January and February when people don’t come out as much,” she told The Guardian​.

“A lot of businesses are still fragile. Any knock at this point in time could have an impact on viability. People will just go to the wall.”

Nicholls added that customers were already cautious about booking ahead for the festive period as Covid-19 cases rise. Advance bookings for the festive period would usually be 90% complete by the August bank holiday, she said, but were running at much lower levels this year.

'No more lockdowns', insists Sunak

As fears over the introduction of new restrictions mounted over the weekend, Chancellor Rishi Sunak looked to assuage fears of another winter lockdown.

In an interview with The Times​, the Chancellor stated that pubs and restaurants must not shut again to deal with the pandemic, and insisted that vaccines meant there could be 'no more lockdowns'.

He said: “I think we’re just in a very different place to where we were a year ago because of the vaccine.

“There’s this enormous wave of protection, and that changes things. That’s our first line of defence.”

The Chancellor admitted that whilst the winter would be 'challenging', it wouldn't mean resorting to another lockdown. 

"There's a range of options that are available, and those are not options that involve lockdowns or very significant economic restrictions," he added.

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