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Sat 6th Feb 2021 - Update: Proposals for reopening of pubs
Pubs and restaurants could reopen in April – with no alcohol: Pubs and restaurants could reopen as soon as April if they agree not to sell alcohol under options being discussed to allow the widespread relaxation of coronavirus restrictions after Easter. The Telegraph reports that a temporary “booze ban” is being considered as part of the government’s roadmap for lifting lockdown, which will be unveiled on 22 February. It is understood the move is being discussed to allay concerns from Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and others about the effect of drinking on social distancing. Under the three-stage plan for lifting restrictions, some outdoor socialising is expected to be allowed in March and schools are set to return. It is hoped hospitality can then reopen in April and all of the most vulnerable will be vaccinated by May, in time for the local elections. Ministers are facing demands from Conservative MPs to find ways of opening the hospitality sector, which employs 3.2 million people, as soon as it is safe to do so. But sources admitted alcohol was “the elephant in the room” after chaotic scenes when pubs reopened last summer following the first lockdown. During meetings of the government’s tourism and hospitality recovery groups, ministers have highlighted Scotland’s indoor alcohol ban in October as a possible way forward. Department for Health officials are understood to have cited concerns from Professor Whitty that people are less likely to abide by restrictions after drinking. Dry venues could open in April or May, sources suggested, though discussions are at an early stage. The alternative to an alcohol ban would be to delay the reopening of pubs and restaurants until later in the year to allow for the widespread rollout of vaccines. There are also discussions on removing the requirement for venues to serve a table meal following widespread confusion over the rule, as well as about whether two households should be allowed to mix. A senior government source said no decisions had been taken over whether an alcohol ban could be used to open pubs earlier but did not deny the discussions were taking place. Another option would be to allow venues such as cafes to reopen earlier, having previously been caught up in blanket hospitality restrictions despite the main risk of transmission coming from pubs and restaurants. UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls told the newspaper: “We welcome the opportunity to have sensible and pragmatic discussions with the government about the pace and nature of reopening. It’s important that any restrictions deliver the maximum health benefits for minimum economic harm. That’s why we are pleased they are revisiting curfew and substantial table meals. But it’s vital the ongoing support takes into account the latest economic situation. It’s important that support continues through recovery while companies struggle to break even.”

Curfew to be scrapped, pubs to open in May: The 10pm curfew will not return when pubs finally reopen in May. According to The Sun, Boris Johnson has ordered “a simplification” of rules meaning punters will not have to buy a Scotch egg to get served – but revellers will be encouraged to drink outdoors. Ministers have pencilled in a return for takeaway pints in April, and with pubs and bars able to reopen fully a month later. But big groups will have to stay in beer gardens and on pavements to begin with because “ventilation is key”. Ministers are determined for hospitality “to open properly this time” after many pubs were left uneconomically viable by the curfew and confusing tier restrictions on drinking with food. Complex rules, which varied from area to area, left punters and landlords confused and police warned they were all but unenforceable. Rules on what you had to eat to get served left even ministers that drew them up struggling to clearly define what constituted “a substantial meal”. On Friday night (5 February), multiple Whitehall sources and ministers confirmed the “early days” plan but stressed “everything is contingent on the cases and deaths continuing to fall”. One said: “Things that were proven to be a hindrance like 10pm drinking up time, will go. If pubs are to reopen for good, they’ve got to do it properly and can’t be stuck in limbo like last year.” Another added: “Ventilation is key to tackling the virus so expect a major push to drink outside to begin with, especially for larger groups.”

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