Eight areas – Bolton, Blackburn, Kirklees, Bedford, Burnley, Leicester, Hounslow and North Tyneside – have been identified as areas affected by rising cases of the B.1.617.2 variant first identified in India.
Local leaders responded in anger after little publicity was made about the publication of updated advice for these areas on the Government website last week (Friday 21 May).
The guidance states that "wherever possible" people should meet outside rather than inside and keep two metres apart from different households.
Initial travel advice also recommended that people avoid travel unless it was for an essential reason but this has since been relaxed to advise people to minimise travel.
A number of the affected areas were hit hard by local lockdowns last year, including Leicester and parts of Manchester, meaning a bitter blow for licensees finally able to reopen last week (Monday 17 May).
UKHospitality boss Kate Nicholls was keen to stress the guidance was not mandatory and did not mean indoor hospitality needed to shut. “This advice is just that – advice,” she said.
Confusion and uncertainty
“However, it has quite clearly caused a considerable amount of confusion and uncertainty amongst residents and businesses in these areas. This has a considerable knock on effect on the hospitality sector, damaging consumer confidence meaning operators now face the prospect of lost bookings and sales," Nicholls continued.
“The sector has only just reopened after months of closure and over a year of severely disrupted trading, with businesses in a very fragile state, so clear communication and consultation with business is needed.”
Billy Allingham, director of the Steamin' Billy pub group, told The Morning Advertiser he had experienced “cancellations coming in fast,” across his Leicestershire sites after the guidance.
The travel guidance comes at a frustrating time, with Leicester gearing up to play Bristol on 5 June with 10,000 fans in the stadium.
Allingham added: “[There has been] no joined up thinking again, we operate Covid secure venues and all the vulnerable have been fully vaccinated. We didn't allow international travel, the government did and now we are to pay for it.”
“We must have clear evidence-based policy, not tepid suggestions,” Allingham continued.
Another Leicester operator, Alan Merryweather, was more optimistic despite having one table call to cancel an indoor booking in light of the advice
“We should be supporting local anyway so let's hope we're staying local,” he explained. “It's only guidance.”
He said he was “not that bothered” about a potential hit to consumer confidence at his Black Horse pub in Aylestone, which had been closed from November to April.
“To be honest, you lose the will. All you want the Government to do is give you firm directions.
“This being leaked onto the Government website and then not really being announced, has obviously thrown people a bit,” Merryweather said. “Initially I think it's just another thing that we have got to cope with.”
For customers concerned about indoor socialising, the pub boasts a large garden of 170 covers. “Let’s get 'em outside,” the operator said. “It feels safer outside to be fair.”
The team at his Black Horse pub in Aylestone were committed to health and safety measures including doing two rapid Covid tests per week.
“We’re doing everything we can. You’ve got to live with risk I’m afraid,” he added. “It’s about being sensible.”
- Are you in an area experiencing a rise in variant cases? Has it impacted your business? Let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org