Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has been accused of doing a U-turn after making an announcement just a week ago saying the Omicron “storm is fully upon us” and would not peak for another 10 to 14 days.
The minister has now backtracked on those comments, pointing to “rapidly falling” case numbers and has announced all restrictions will be lifted in two weeks. At the moment, pubs across Wales are being forced to impose the ‘rule of six’ and only allowed to operate table service.
The news has been greeted with relief from the trade but also anger over what many see as an over-reaction from the Welsh authorities.
Kris Gumbrell, chief executive of Brewhouse & Kitchen, which runs a bar in Cardiff, said the situation was down to hysteria and had damaged the country's reputation for business.
“Their case rates last week were higher than comparable English cities, their response has been a combination of hysteria and point scoring, and has achieved very very little other than further wrecking their hospitality sector.
“I am in regular contact with friends and colleagues who are operators in Wales and we have a fantastic Brewpub in Cardiff, it has been so frustrating for everyone.
“The Welsh administration have an extraordinarily casual attitude to business and their economy, and are more focussed on making political points against the English government than have a sensible and pragmatic plan.
“If we are to live with Covid as it now becomes endemic, an investor/entrepreneur would think very carefully before investing in Wales under Mark Drakeford, and I write this as a proud Welshman.”
Jonathan Greatorex, managing director of the Hand at Llanarmon, near Llangollen, said: “While, of course, the announcement of lifting of restrictions in Wales is welcome news, we cannot lose sight of the devastation that they have caused upon the hospitality industry throughout the nation.
“Welsh government has repeatedly declined to produce the evidence on which the restrictions were based and, sadly, the financial compensation offered comes nowhere near to the losses incurred by businesses.
“The bottom line is that thousands of workers have had shifts cancelled and thus gone without pay at this, the bleakest time of year financially for many and that is simply unforgivable.
“This is especially galling as it now appears that compared to case numbers in England, the restrictions appeared to be wholly unnecessary.”
Edmund Inkin, joint owner and director of Eatdrinksleep, which runs sites in England and Wales, said: “We’re pleased to see that the confusion of restrictions will be moving away but there is little to celebrate here.
“The whole industry would welcome a much earlier removal than 28 January so that it can operate on a level playing field with England and begin to stem the haemorrhaging of cash.
“Although rural, destination pubs such as ours have been just about OK since the restrictions were introduced, for hundreds of operators across Wales, who rely on larger groups spending money confidently in December, these restrictions have been absolutely catastrophic. The financial challenge lying ahead of them over the next three to four months is very significant.”
Bruno Nunes, who heads up the Creative Hospitality Group which runs several sites across south Wales, described the entire situation as reckless.
“This exercise was nothing but political posturing. The Welsh government does not have the ability to support the damage it caused, yet it went ahead anyway. This can only be described as irresponsible at best.
“No evidence was ever offered, despite numerous requests and it arrogantly assumes Welsh advisers are better than the English – turns out England was right.”
He said his business had experienced significant losses to the tune of £370,000 compared to around £90,000 worth of support and he expressed concerns that the restrictions will have led to a loss of consumer confidence.
Lee Price, from the Royal Pier in Aberystwyth, added: “We welcome today’s news about the lifting of restrictions. The Welsh government's decision to close nightclubs in December 2021 resulted in the loss of a vital revenue stream and 43 employees being stripped of work without any financial support.
“Despite fully supporting their public health strategy since reopening, we were disappointed that a forced, inflexible closure was instinctively chosen ahead of a more dynamic formula to preserve much-needed trade. Nightclubs are sitting ducks and government appear not to frown upon shooting at them.
“In respect of the recent restrictions, I am intuitively inclined to trust that those with access to data get their decisions right, but it is particularly difficult when supporting evidence isn’t readily shared and you have very little confidence generally in the powers that be.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the Welsh Beer & Pub Association said: “The news that restrictions in Wales will be lifted from the end of January is fantastic for pubs and brewers. Of course every day of trading counts, especially in light of the huge loss of trade over the festive period, and we would love to have been open earlier.
“The average pub in Wales lost more than 30% of income over the two-week Christmas period, which has hit bottom lines incredibly hard.
“We will continue to work closely with ministers in Wales to ensure that brewers and pubs in Wales, so vital to the visitor economy, can restart their recovery in earnest. The ongoing support of the Welsh government will be important to make sure Welsh brewers and pubs bounce back as quickly as possible.”