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Hospitality Highlights – UK Unlocking

Hospitality Highlights – UK Unlocking

UK Unlocking An Interview With Lord Karan Bilimoria

Hospitality Highlights – UK Unlocking

The UK hospitality industry has been shut down, for the most part, since January 2021. But even before then, many businesses had been subject to some form of restrictions. Certain parts of the country only enjoyed a few weeks of semi-normality during the summer months of 2020 before being placed into one of the government’s upper Tiers. This was to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

It’s been argued that the relaxation of the rules in summer and December 2020 led to COVID cases spiking again. Something that inevitably led to the UK entering a full national lockdown once again – and not just a brief ‘circuit breaker’ either.

Yet the Eat Out to Help Out scheme did give the hospitality sector a much-needed boost, despite potentially causing further spread of the virus as people went about their business. Many businesses in the hospitality industry may not be able to survive a third major national lockdown. This is why the next few months will be crucial.

Easing of restrictions on the 17th of May

On Monday the 17th of May, most of the restrictions in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 will be relaxed across the whole UK. Some social distancing measures will still be in place, as will ‘The Rule of Six’, and people will still be expected to wear face coverings in public places.

However, the restrictions that kept businesses closed during lockdown will finally be lifted, as they were in July 2020. People will also be able to visit each other’s homes again for the first time since Christmas Day.

Restaurants will once again be able to serve seated customers inside their venues, providing social distancing (at the bar for example) and the Rule of Six is adhered to. This means that people will only be able to book a table for a maximum of six people – and only from two households per table.

While many restaurants may choose to continue to operate a takeaway service, they won’t be forced to do so to earn a profit like in recent months. They will once again be able to run like they used to before the national lockdown, for the most part at least.

Importance of the COVID-19 vaccines to the UK hospitality industry

Many businesses may be wondering how this easing of restrictions is different from last time, citing July 2020 as an example. The worry for those in the hospitality sector is while customers returning is essential to reopening, do we risk spreading the virus again on the 17th of May like what happened last year?

This is a legitimate concern, but the key difference this time is that now there are multiple vaccines for COVID-19. At the time of writing, over 35 million people in the UK have been vaccinated against COVID-19. And this figure continues to grow daily.

Over 18 million of these represent people who’ve had two doses; however, evidence shows that one dose also offers significant protection against COVID-19 symptoms. The vaccines don’t just protect people from developing symptoms of the virus either; a study published in April shows that the Oxford/AstraZeneca and BioNTech/Pfizer vaccines also help prevent the spread of COVID-19 too. However, transmission is still possible among asymptomatic and vaccinated persons.

More good news is that as COVID-19 mostly spreads via tiny droplets, the reduction in symptoms from the various vaccines means there will be fewer droplets spread from person to person. One of the main symptoms of COVID is a bad cough, which in turn spreads the droplets. But a vaccinated person is unlikely to develop a cough even if they do catch the virus and are therefore much less likely to spread it. This is excellent news for the hospitality industry.

Presently the two vaccines referenced above are the main ones in circulation in the UK. However, the Moderna vaccine has also been approved for UK use, and rollout is expected to begin soon. This should help increase the number of vaccinations being given and return the UK to normality quicker. Johnson and Johnson’s COVID vaccine is also in the pipeline, along with a further two.

While there’s still a threat that COVID could mutate to get around the vaccines, the hope is the most recent national lockdown has reduced circulation enough to prevent this. Overall, the critical difference between the 17th of May and last year is that now medical science has the tools to combat COVID. The medical community believes it is now safe to ease the restrictions across the UK.

We spoke to Lord Karan Bilimoria, chairman and founder of Cobra Beer, who told us, “We welcome the roadmap set out by the government. It’s good to hear that the criteria has been met for indoor dining to return. This is a huge opportunity for our sector, which has been shut for such a long time.

Lots of restaurants didn’t have the space to serve customers outdoors once this became possible. This and the fact that we’ve just had the coldest April recorded in six decades has been an obstacle for lots of businesses.”

We asked Lord Bilimoria his thoughts on the difference between the 17th of May 2021 and July 2020, when the hospitality industry opened for the first time.

“There is a huge difference between now and what happened last year. The UK’s vaccination program has been outstanding and is going to plan, perhaps even ahead of target. Along with free rapid mass lateral flow testing available to workplaces and every citizen and the fact we now know so much more about the virus, we’re in a much better position this time around. Full credit to the scientific community, government, universities and business all working together as well as Nadhim Zahawi, the Vaccinations Minister.

The government’s recently established Therapeutics Task Force could also be a game-changer. This has been set up to identify therapeutics and drugs, including repurposed therapeutics which may be able to cure the virus. This gives us even more reason to be hopeful.”

Lord Bilimoria went on to say, “Most restaurants can open and are looking forward to it. But we’re still waiting for further clarity from the government about what changes will come on 21st June when more restrictions are lifted. Safety is the priority, it’s important we don’t cut corners.”

Further easing of restrictions

On the 21st of June 2021, all other social restrictions will be lifted – according to the UK government. While they are yet to communicate precisely what this entails, it can be reasonably assumed that things like the Rule of Six and some other social distancing measures will fall into this category, however, we’ll need to wait and see to be certain.

Although the government and medical community will likely assess this closer to the time. The Prime Minister has confirmed that data will take priority over dates. Therefore, some restrictions, such as face coverings and certain social distancing measures may well continue after the 21st of June. However, we believe the UK hospitality industry may finally return to a semblance of normality from the 17th of May.

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls spoke positively about the industry’s return in an interview with Big Hospitality saying, “The response has been positive from the Government. It has listened to us and acknowledged the scale of the problem that the country is facing and acted swiftly to mitigate the impacts. It recognised the unique impacts and urgency faced by our sector, as a provider of social spaces, and acted accordingly.”

She went on to say, “But we are in virgin territory here and, of course, there were hiccups. The initial recommendation that businesses close, without mandatory closures, did cause some confusion, in particular when some businesses looked to claim insurance. Since then, though, the Government response has been rapid and positive for the sector.

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