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Thu 23rd Dec 2021 - Sector bosses plead for clarity over possible post-Christmas restrictions as studies show Omicron is milder
Hospitality bosses plead for clarity over possible post-Christmas restrictions as studies show Omicron is milder: Prime minister Boris Johnson will wait until after Christmas Day to announce any post-festive covid changes, after studies showed Omicron is milder and far less likely to cause hospitalisation than Delta – but hospitality bosses are pleading for clarity over plans for New Year's Eve. Venues are desperate to know whether they will be allowed to open on what is a crucial day of trading, especially after weeks of devastation caused by the Omicron variant. But sources said the government will not make any announcements on further measures this week, meaning venues will likely only get clarity at the last minute. Some nightclubs make as much as a tenth of their annual profits on New Year's Eve and lockdown measures could plunge more pubs, bars and restaurants into financial ruin. It comes after studies by Imperial College London found, overall, Britons who catch Omicron are between 15% and 20% less likely to be admitted to hospital than those who get Delta. But the real-world analysis, of more than 300,000 people between December 1 and 14, found the chance of having to stay in the NHS overnight was even lower, with a reduced risk of between 40% and 45%. The findings are believed to have been the reason Johnson put the brakes on tougher Christmas restrictions despite case numbers rising to record levels – with 106,122 positive tests recorded yesterday (Wednesday, 22 December). Health secretary Sajid Javid has said reports of Omicron producing milder illness than previous strains of covid are being assessed, while the minister for care, Gillian Keegan, has warned there is “uncertainty” around people making plans for New Year's Eve. Greater Manchester's night-time economy advisor Sacha Lord said it is critical the government announces a decision for England as quickly as possible. He praised the prime minister for recognising the importance of keeping the hospitality sector open but said it is “in limbo” with the threat of restrictions hanging overhead. British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin added: “New Year's Eve and the build-up to the new year is a huge part of our festive trading. We have already been decimated by the government's announcement and are desperately hoping we can cling on into the new year and find a way to trade our way into recovery in 2022.” Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Kent-based brewer and retailer Shepherd Neame, said: “We hope that pubs stay open and that there are no further restrictions.” JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin added the government should not cancel new year, adding: “Do not follow Scotland.” The reaction from hospitality bosses comes after a study found even for an unvaccinated person who has never had covid and has no immunity, there was a 10% lower risk of being hospitalised with Omicron compared with Delta. For someone who has been recently infected, the chance of hospitalisation was slashed by 69% in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. It comes after official data showed there were another 302 hospital admissions in London on 20 December, the latest date data is available for, which was up 79% in a week – but still a fraction of the peak during the second wave, when there were 850. Ministers are said to be watching admission rates in the capital before pulling the trigger on more curbs because London is a few weeks ahead of the rest of the country in its Omicron outbreak. Government sources say officials are considering a national two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown after Christmas if London's daily admissions breach 400 this week — which would signal “unsustainable” pressure on the NHS. 

Propel Premium Advent Video Calendar to feature Guy Meakin: Propel has launched its Premium Advent Video Calendar, giving subscribers access to a great video each day in December from our autumn conference series. Each day in December in the run-up to Christmas, Premium subscribers will be sent a video featuring some of the sector’s leading operators, who will share insights, advice and expertise. The next video – which will be sent at 9am today (Thursday, 23 December) – features Guy Meakin, UK trading director of Pret A Manger, on how the brand has had to adapt its model, the development and success of its subscription model, embracing delivery, and the role digital will play in its future growth strategy. Earlier this month, Premium subscribers received the fifth edition of The New Openings Database, which is produced in association with StarStock. The database showed the details of 366 newly announced site openings and upcoming launches. Premium subscribers also receive access to two other databases – the Propel Multi-Site Database, which is produced in association with Virgate, and the Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel group editor Mark Wingett. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. To subscribe, email jo.charity@propelinfo.com
 
Welsh government reveals details of funding package for hospitality following new restrictions: Details have been revealed of the business support available for firms in Wales hit by cancellations and restrictions due to the Omicron crisis. Economy minister Vaughan Gething has announced the details of the £120m funding that will be available for non-essential retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism business and their supply chains. It will cover the period from 13 December to 14 February. As a result of the new emergency support packages, the Welsh government is withdrawing its £35m Business Support Fund, announced in November, in order to re-allocate and process emergency payments as soon as possible. All existing offers will be honoured. Under the latest package, retail, hospitality, leisure and tourism business who pay non domestic rates will be entitled to a payment of £2,000, £4,000 or £6,000 depending on their rateable value. It compares with rates of £2,700, £4,000 and £6,000 in England announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier this week, which freed up extra funding for Welsh government. Businesses will need to re-register their details with their local authority in order to receive their payments. In addition, impacted hospitality and leisure businesses and their supply chains will be able to apply for top up funding from a new Economic Resilience Fund (ERF). Eligible businesses can apply for grants of between £2,500 and £25,000, with grants dependant on their size and number of employees. The application window for ERF will open in the week commencing 17 January with payments starting to reach businesses within days. The new support package will be available on the Business Wales website by the start of 2022. The package comes after the Welsh government announced from 6am on Boxing Day, the rule of six will apply to pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, while two-metre social distancing will apply in all public settings. Table service and collecting of contact details will return to all licensed premises, while face coverings will be required in all hospitality settings apart from when seated. Large events, both indoors and outdoors, will also be banned, with the maximum number of people allowed at an event set at 30 indoors and 50 outdoors. This follows the news last week Welsh nightclubs would close on Monday (27 December). Gething said: “We fully understand the continued challenges faced by businesses, however we are facing a very serious situation in Wales. A wave of infections caused by the new, fast-moving and very-infectious omicron variant is headed our way, this means taking early action to try and control its spread – and limit the impact on Welsh businesses. We will continue to monitor the impact of the spread of Omicron on businesses in Wales, and will consider whether additional emergency funding is needed in the new year.”

Number of pubs in England and Wales falls by more than 400 in past year: More than 400 pubs have disappeared from communities in England and Wales as the number calling last orders flatlined despite the toll of the pandemic. New analysis has revealed the number of pubs across England and Wales in 2021 was largely unchanged from last year. Analysis of official government data by real estate adviser Altus Group has shown the number of pubs liable for property taxes, for business rates, including those vacant and being offered to let, fell by 444 to 40,173 in December, compared with 40,617 a year earlier. The figure means roughly 37 pubs have been demolished or converted for other uses, such as for homes or offices, each month in 2021. Recent data has shown a steadying in the sector, with 446 disappearing in 2020 and 473 disappearing in 2019, after pub numbers tumbled dramatically by 914 in 2018. Nevertheless, it shows the continued fall in pub numbers across the UK, with 2,277 vanishing over the past four years. The south west and north west regions have the highest number of pubs at 5,739 and 5,361 respectively, according to the government figures. Meanwhile, the north east and Wales have the lowest numbers at 1,983 and 3,060 respectively.

West End faces long road back as shoppers stay home: Fear of catching coronavirus has made shoppers and revellers stay away from London’s West End, as footfall was more than a quarter lower than pre-pandemic levels during what should be one of the busiest trading days of the year. Visitor numbers were 27% lower on Tuesday (21 December) compared with the same day in 2019, according to the New West End Company, which represents hundreds of businesses. Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, told the Times: “Once again we are seeing fewer customers on the high street than there were two years ago. Retail and leisure businesses will have spent significant amounts of time and money preparing for a busy Christmas period, only for people to understandably stay at home in the face of rising covid rates. We must see tangible relief for the retail industry, alongside more substantial measures for leisure businesses. Otherwise we run the risk of more much-loved brands being forced to close in the coming months.” Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, said: “Many of our shops and restaurants face an uncertain Christmas and a precarious new year. That’s why I have written to the chancellor urging him to consider more flexible grants and continued business rate relief to help revive the economy of central London.” 

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