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Wed 14th Oct 2020 - Legal Briefing
Restrictions and their unintended consequences by Michelle Hazlewood

We can all appreciate the government is tasked with a complex job in deciding the best course of action regarding the rate of infection. During the past few weeks, we have seen changes that have drastically impacted upon the day-to-day running of the hospitality industry. The sector has shown great resilience during this time and strived to adapt to each new rule. However, sometimes I do wonder how well those in power are able to look beyond the immediate horizon and recognise the knock-on effects of these regulations.

It is obvious the 10pm curfew has pushed customers to continue their evening elsewhere – whether it be at home, a friend’s house, or a student hall of residence. The government continues to identify these are the places where the virus is most often spread. I am unable to understand how subconsciously encouraging groups to mingle in private households is deemed more responsible than allowing the public to enjoy a drink in a highly regulated pub or bar where staff supervise social distancing as the night progresses.

It also prompts people to start drinking much earlier. The concern that customers will be unable to keep a two-metre distance when drunk may not be solved by this curfew, as in some parts of the population it encourages vigorous day drinking sessions. We have seen this is prominent in cities with large student populations.

We are aware of enforcement officers shutting down high-risk student flat parties but it is clear that many will still go under the radar. A late-night rave that was held in a Coventry hall of residence common room had about 200 people attending and was broadcasted widely on social media.

The position on off-sales in England is also inconsistent and influences individuals to drink out of a controlled environment. Wales has taken an interesting approach where people are unable to purchase any alcohol after the curfew time and Scotland’s legislation restricts the hours in any event. Despite this, England’s off-sales are allowed to continue past closing time.

This lack of supervision could also lead to an increase in drug use. All licensed premises sign up to a zero-tolerance policy and have systems to prevent use and dealing in their premises. We have already seen the unfortunate consequence of drug use in some northern universities.

This problem should have been foreseeable if someone had simply asked the question: “What will people do after the 10pm curfew time?” Some would argue the restrictions have proven counterproductive and may even be worsening the situation.

Then comes the secondary implications on social distancing. With overwhelmed taxi ranks and public transport during the 10pm rush. We have argued for a long time about the merits of a phased dispersal and police forces have claimed it can also reduce the level of violence at the taxi ranks. Wales decided to factor in a brief wind-down period to allow people to depart gradually. A strict 10pm cut off point is simply not feasible or fair in every situation.

The original intent was to simply prevent people from congregating in a licensed premise after 10pm. However, the blanket rule continues to be problematic. Hotels with integrated reception and bar areas struggle to conclude whether they can sell bottled water or some snacks to those checking in after 10pm. The regulations seem to prevent this unless the items are ordered remotely and delivered to the room. It cannot have been the government’s intention to restrict a struggling industry in this way but it is unclear if it is possible to “use common sense” or whether there will be heavy sanctions for these kinds of breaches.

From this week, we have seen the closure of the central belt in Scotland and have, potentially, more restrictions for England on the way. We can only hope these are short term. The unfortunate position for the trade is that it will be a no-win situation. We need the transmission rate to drop so restrictions can be eased, but this will justify the process even though there was no evidence to support its application. I believe the industry would like to see some reflection on the feedback that it is providing as well as solid evidence that these measures are having a positive impact.
Michelle Hazlewood is a partner at John Gaunt & Partners
John Gaunt & Partners is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

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