No plans to shut pubs in ‘trade-off’ to reopen schools, minister confirms

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Pub 'trade-off': 'we don’t want to do anything that is a blanket approach across the country,' Robert Jenrick told Times Radio
Pub 'trade-off': 'we don’t want to do anything that is a blanket approach across the country,' Robert Jenrick told Times Radio

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Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has moved to quell speculation the Government could call time on reopened pubs and restaurants as part of a ‘trade-off’ to allow children to return to classrooms in September.

Asked on Times Radio​ whether pubs and restaurants would have to close in order for schools to fully reopen in September after suggestions they may be called to do so by Government scientists, housing secretary Jenrick said: “We don't have any plans to do that.”

Jenrick’s clarification follows comments made by England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty at Friday 31 July’s Downing Street news conference with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in which he said “trade-offs” may be necessary as we approach the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society while managing the spread of Covid-19. 

“What that means potentially is if we wish to do more things in the future we may have to do less of some other things and these will be difficult trade-offs some of which will be decisions of Government and some of which are for all of us as citizens to do,” he said. 

“But we have to be realistic about this, the idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong.”

While Jenrick added schools would be a priority in the event of such dilemmas, he continued that fresh restrictions were unlikely to be applied wholesale, stating: “we don’t want to do anything that is a blanket approach across the country.” 

“You’re right to say reopening schools and getting our children back into the classroom with that direct face-to-face contact with their teachers will be a priority for the Government when we have to make those tough choices,’ he told Times Radio​.

“Our strategy is to manage this in a localised way with targeted action as we’ve done in Leicester, as we’re doing now in the north west.

“We will follow the data and look at options if we have to but that approach is the way we restrict in certain areas – it is difficult for those who live there but it provides greater freedom for the rest of the country, for businesses to reopen and for people to get on with their daily lives, and that has to be the way forward if we can.”

Pub trade-off 

Jenrick’s clarification also follows comments made by professor Graham Medley, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme​ that restrictions of other activities may be needed to allow schools to reopen as planned.

Medley added that most people would prioritise the health and wellbeing of children over going to the pub.

"We're in a situation whereby most people think opening schools is a priority for the health and wellbeing of children and when we do that, we are going to reconnect lots of households,” he said.

"And so actually, closing some of the other networks, some of the other activities may well be required to enable us to open schools.

"It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other, and then that's a matter of prioritising. Do we think pubs are more important than schools?"

However, hospitality sector leaders including UKHospitality’s Kate Nicholls have warned shutting pubs and restaurants again would put millions out of work, shatter confidence and deal the economy a major blow. 

“It’s simply too big to just switch off. We would be talking about millions of people unemployed, a major loss of economic activity,” Nicholls said.

Hammer blow

Fears of a second wave of Covid-19 cases have been heightened after parts of the country including Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and east Lancashire​ were subjected to restrictions on gatherings between households in a bid to limit local outbreaks from midnight on 31 July.

With people from different households now not allowed to meet up in private homes or gardens and only allowed to visit pubs with members of their household, pub operators in affected regions have been told to “take steps” to discourage people from meeting up with different households.

While night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord said it was “imperative” the virus was slowed down, he recognised that restrictions would “strike another hammer blow” to businesses.

“As a sector already on its knees, it's inevitable we will now see cancellations and reduced footfall across restaurants, pubs and bars, and I am also very concerned for the hotels in the area who are already struggling with a lack of tourism, football and events,” he said.

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