Coronavirus: a year of closures

Looking back on lockdowns: ‘Rollercoaster year we'll never forget'

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Year long measures: pubs have been closed or operating with restrictions in place due to the pandemic since March 2020 (image: Getty/alano design)
Year long measures: pubs have been closed or operating with restrictions in place due to the pandemic since March 2020 (image: Getty/alano design)

Related tags coronavirus Legislation Government ukhospitality Greene king Jdw Star pubs & bars Mitchells & butlers

Voices from the trade have labelled the past 12 months as “horrific”, while others have described the Government’s response to restrictions imposed in 2020 and into 2021 as a “hash”.

The Prime Minister ordered pubs to close on Friday 20 March 2020 and announced a full national lockdown just three days later on Monday 23 March 2020.

This was followed by a plethora of restrictions across the past year including two further lockdowns, the tiered system alongside a curfew for pubs when they were permitted to reopen from Saturday 4 July, rules around a ‘substantial meal’ and a ban on takeaway alcohol.

The British Beer & Pub Association estimated some 2,000 pubs have been lost forever, 2.1bn pints in beer sales and £8.2bn in trade has been wiped out​ as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Looking back on the pandemic and the measures that have been imposed, Star Pubs & Bars managing director Lawson Mountstevens said: “The anniversary of the first lockdown is a time to mark the real achievements of our industry during what has been the most challenging trading conditions seen in generations.

“There is much to be proud of. I, for one, am hugely proud of the resilience of licensees, their can-do spirit as well as the fantastic work they have been doing to support their communities.

“I’m also very proud of our colleagues who have been working under difficult circumstances to help support licensees over the past year.

“Another real positive is the increased valued placed on the leased and tenanted model, which has been strengthened by the much-needed support pub companies have provided to tenants during this difficult year.

“Looking forward, research indicates a good summer ahead on the back of pent-up demand. Our rent reductions over the past 12 months – an investment that now totals more than £60m – means our pubs are well positioned to benefit from this.

“However, to ensure any recovery is sustained, we need the Government to look to the long-term and in particular, to reform business rates and reduce duty on beer and cider. As for 12 April, I am looking forward to the first of many pints this year in some of our great pubs.”

Hash of a response

JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has previously criticised the Government’s response to the pandemic.

On marking a year since the first lockdown was announced, Martin said: “The Government has made a hash of its response to the pandemic, with constant changes of direction.

“The first lockdown ‘to flatten the sombrero’ so as to help the NHS was justified. Once pubs reopened around July, as more information became available, it was apparent pubs were not centres of transmission of the virus.

“Even so, the Government introduced curfews, ‘substantial meals’ and no-standing rules, tiers and lockdowns that gradually killed the industry.

“Sweden’s Professor Johan Giesecke says handwashing, social distancing and trusting people are the right strategy. The Government should have listened to that advice.”

The trade has been battered more than most other industries, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said.

She added: “There is no mincing words. The past year has been horrific for pubs. We’ve been hit harder than any other sector and the consequences have been dire and we are still not out of the woods yet.

“In some respects, the hard work is now just beginning. The endurance and determination of the sector has shone through though. Pubs have been in the eye of the storm but they have taken stock, adapted and come out fighting.

“They have effectively been asked to pick up the slack to ensure other sectors survive. It is not fair but it a task that perhaps only they could have risen to and they have done so admirably.”

Sector resilience

A spokesperson for Mitchells & Butlers described the past year as a “rollercoaster” that has tested the resilience of the pub company’s business and teams.

“From the shock of forced closure last spring through to the elation of reopening and the surge in optimism from Eat Out to Help Out in the summer, only to be slowly crushed by a bewildering array of rules and restrictions imposed in the autumn and then the desperate lows of winter lockdown,” they added.

“All in all, it’s been a year we’ll never forget but one we are determined to put behind us as we now prepare for a successful and hopefully sustainable reopening this spring.”

Greene King CEO Nick Mackenzie echoed Star’s Mountstevens’ comments around the support pubs continued to show their communities amid the pandemic.

He said: “It’s hard to believe it has been a year since we first closed our pubs. Looking back, we had no idea of the challenges we would face including three national lockdowns, tiered and regional reopening strategies, a myriad of different trading restrictions as well as the financial impact on the business.

“While many of our 40,000 team members have been furloughed and struggled with the uncertainty, I have been continually amazed by their positivity, resilience and sense of community.

“The stories of how they have pulled together throughout the crisis, in particular supporting their local communities and volunteering for good causes have been inspiring.

“The past year has taught us how important pubs are to communities, and I know our customers are keen to reconnect with their friends and family over a pint or a meal, so it is imperative that we are able to operate without restrictions from 21 June so we can all enjoy the summer.

“While there will still be challenges in the months ahead, we stand ready to open our doors and welcome people back to the great British pub experience they know and love.”

Timeline of 2020 and 2021 so far

Monday 16 March 2020​ – Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the public to avoid all “unnecessary travel” and “avoid pubs​, clubs, theatres and other such social venues”.

Friday 20 March 2020​ – Pubs, cafés, bars and restaurants were told to close​ by the PM while the Chancellor announced a new Government grant that covered 80% of employees’ wages (furlough)

Tuesday 23 June​ 2020 – The Government confirmed pubs could reopen from Saturday 4 July​ with one-metre distancing measures in place. Further guidance​ was then released.

Saturday 4 July 2020​ – Pubs could reopen with distancing in place, risk assessments required and an array of other restrictions in place, in accordance with the guidance.

Monday 3 August 2020​ – Eat Out to Help Out begins with pubgoers able to have a 50% discount off their meal and non-alcoholic drinks Monday to Wednesday with pubs able to claim the discount back. This ran until 31 August.

Thursday 24 September 2020​ – The requirement for pub staff and customers to wear face masks inside came into force.

Saturday 31 October 2020​ – Johnson announced pubs and other “non-essential businesses” would be forced to close again​ from Thursday 5 November, for a month as part of a second national lockdown.

Thursday 5 November 2020​ – Second lockdown comes into force.

Monday 23 November 2020​ – The tier system is announced​ to come into force when the second lockdown restrictions ease whereby those in tier one should work from home where possible and pubs can open until the 11pm closing time. 

For the second tier, the new measures mean pubs can only serve alcohol if they serve a "substantial meal", something that will have a significant impact on wet-led pubs.

Under the new third 'very high' restrictions, pubs must close and only serve takeaway – the same service as in the national lockdowns.

Wednesday 2 December 2020​ – national lockdown restrictions eased and tier system​ comes into force.

Tuesday 8 December 2020​ – the first person in the UK receives the coronavirus vaccine.

Wednesday 30 December 2020​ – Health secretary Matt Hancock addressed this House of Commons, revealing more areas will be moved into tiers three and four effective from the following day (Thursday 31 December), meaning everywhere in England will be under tier three or four measures apart from the Isles of Scilly, which is remaining in tier one. This meant pubs, other than those in the Isles of Scilly, were ordered to close once more.

Monday 4 January 2021​ – A third national lockdown is announced​ – similar to the one imposed at the start of the pandemic in March will be imposed.

English residents were told to stay at home under tougher measures, which include the closure of schools, Johnson outlined in a televised address from Downing Street.

Monday 22 February 2021​ - The roadmap, which was announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson​​, outlined the plan of how the Government is expecting to ease restrictions.

It meant pubs with external spaces can begin trading in that outside area no earlier than Monday 12 April with indoor serving permitted no earlier than Monday 17 May.

The easing will be subject to the four tests, as highlighted by Johnson.

These are:

  • The vaccine deployment continues successfully
  • Evidence showing vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths
  • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations
  • Assessment of risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants

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