A look back at how the coronavirus pandemic impacted pubs

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Long look: the timeline runs from February 2020 until February 2022 (image: Getty/MoMo Productions)
Long look: the timeline runs from February 2020 until February 2022 (image: Getty/MoMo Productions)

Related tags Legislation Government Coronavirus

Following the Government's Living with Covid plan being published last week, The Morning Advertiser has taken a deep dive into the rules and regulations the sector has faced amid the pandemic over the past two years.

Monday 10 February 2020 – Coronavirus case linked to pub

Hove pub the Grenadier, part of Mitchells & Butlers’ brand Sizzling Pubs, confirmed it was remaining open​ after a guest who was diagnosed with coronavirus visited the site.

A spokesperson for Sizzling Pubs said: ““We can confirm we were informed by Public Health England (PHE) that a member of the public confirmed to have contracted coronavirus visited the Grenadier prior to becoming unwell.

“We have followed the advice and worked closely with PHE, which has advised us that there is minimal ongoing risk of infection to either guests or staff and, as such, the pub remains open for business as usual.”

Monday 16 March 2020 – PM urges people to avoid pubs

Boris Johnson told the public to avoid all “unnecessary travel” and “avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues”​.

In a press conference, the Prime Minister also mentioned a particular focus on London with the highest concentration of Covid-19 cases.

He said: “If no one in your household has symptoms, there is more we need you to do now. Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home where they possibly can and you should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues.

“We should all only use the NHS when we really need to and please go online rather than use NHS 111.

“This advice about avoiding all unnecessary social contact is particularly important for people over 70, for pregnant women and those with health conditions.

“If you ask why are we doing this now, the answer is we are asking people to do something that is difficult and disruptive with their lives, and the right moment is to do it when it is most effective and make the biggest difference to slowing the spread of the virus, reducing the number of victims and reducing the number of fatalities.”

On the same day, The Morning Advertiser ​reported pubs were seeing the impacts of the virus on trade​ with footfall beginning to drop.

Friday 20 March 2020 – First national lockdown announced, pubs forced to close and furlough scheme unveiled

Johnson ordered pubs, cafés, bars and restaurants to close while the Chancellor announced a new Government grant that will cover 80% of employees’ wages.

Johnson’s announcement at a press conference said: “Following agreement between all four nations of the UK, we are collectively telling cafés, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight, as they reasonably can and not open tomorrow but, they can continue to provide take-out services.

“We are also telling nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres to close on the same timescale.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak also announced a package of measures aimed to help businesses struggling amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tuesday 23 June 2020 – Reopening date confirmed

Johnson confirmed pubs could reopen from 4 July​ with one-metre distancing measures in place.

This was followed by guidance​ on how pubs could reopen safely including risk assessments, customer and employee safety, and how to manage toilets.

The 43-page documentKeeping workers and customers safe during Covid-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaways services​​, was prepared by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) with input from businesses, unions, industry bodies and the devolved administrations, and in consultation with Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive.

Saturday 4 July 2020 – Reopening date arrives

Pubs were permitted to reopen with various restrictions in place with many national publications labelling it ‘Freedom Day’.

Also in July, VAT on food, accommodation and soft drinks was reduced to 5% in a bid to help the sector recover from the pandemic.

Monday 3 August 2020 – Government scheme to encourage people to dine out announced

Eat Out to Help Out started with pubgoers able to receive a 50% discount off their meal and non-alcoholic drinks Monday to Wednesday for the month of August.

Thursday 24 September 2020 – Face masks for staff and customers

Pubgoers and staff were required to wear face coverings.

Saturday 31 October 2020 – Pubs forced to close again for second lockdown

Johnson announced “non-essential businesses” including pubs had to shut from Thursday 5 November, for a month as part of the nation’s second lockdown.

Thursday 5 November 2020 – Lockdown two comes into force

Pubs were once again ordered to shut their doors as the second national lockdown​ came into force.

Monday 23 November 2020 – Substantial meal rule and curfew revealed as part of tiered system

The Government revealed a tiered system​ for regions once the second lockdown was eased.

This meant those in tier one areas had to adhere to rules including working from home where possible and a curfew for pubs of an 11pm closing time.

For tier two, the substantial meal​ rule was unveiled, prompting fierce debate around what that meant and the “Scotch egg debate”.

Pubs in the second tier could only serve alcohol if they served a “substantial meal”, causing a huge impact on wet-led pubs.

The third ‘very high’ tier meant pubs remained closed and serve takeaway only – the same services as in the national lockdowns.

Wednesday 2 December 2020 – Lockdown eased, tiers in place

The second national lockdown was lifted but replaced with the tiers​.

Tuesday 8 December 2020 – Vaccine progress

The first person in the UK received the vaccine.

Wednesday 30 December 2020 – More areas placed in higher tiers

Then health secretary Matt Hancock announced more areas would be moved into tiers three and four effective from 31 December resulting in everywhere in England was under the highest restrictions in the tier system, with the exception of the Isles of Scilly, which was in tier one, meaning pubs in all areas apart from those in the Isles of Scilly, were forced to close for a third time.

Monday 4 January 2021 – Lockdown three

The third national lockdown​ was announced with restrictions similar to lockdown one were imposed.

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

Monday 22 February 2021 – Roadmap revealed

The Government’s roadmap was unveiled, revealing how it expected to ease restrictions including reopening dates for pubs.

This included reopening for outside trading only no earlier than Monday 12 April and for inside trading, no earlier than Monday 17 May – steps two and three of the roadmap respectively.

Restrictions such as table service only and a legal requirement to take customers’ contact details were in place.

This also included a move to ‘step four’, which was when the Government first hoped it would be in a position to remove all legal limits on social contact no earlier than 21 June however, this went on to be delayed by almost a month to 19 July.

The Government put the delay down to the spread of the Delta variant.

Monday 12 April 2021 – Pubs can open outside

Pubs were permitted to serve outdoors only on this date – the Government’s step two of its roadmap.

Other rules that had to be followed included takeaway alcohol was permitted (something that was allowed in lockdown one but was then scrapped subsequently).

The definition of “outside” meant pubgoers could be undercover but need to have at least half (50%) of the area of the walls open at all times while in use,

Research from CGA and AlixPartners’ Market Recovery Monitor ​revealed less than a quarter (23.2%) of England’s licensed premises were trading towards the end of the first week outdoor service was permitted​ (Thursday 15 April).

Monday 17 May 2021 – Indoor service resumes

Operators were then allowed to serve customers inside​ with various measures in place. This included table service and requirements to collect guest data for NHS Test & Trace.

Furthermore, the rule of six had to be adhered to and social distancing measures had to be in place as well.

Monday 21 June 2021 – Step four postponed

While this was the original date all legal limits were potentially being lifted, the Government delayed this step (four) of the roadmap due to the Delta variant spread.

This meant no big changes for pubs on this date however, the main change at this time was the rules around weddings and capacity at the celebration.

While there was no longer a maximum number cap for attendees set out in law, the number in place was then determined by how many people the venue or space could accommodate with social distancing in place. Guest still had to be seated at tables of six.

Monday 19 July 2021 – Mandatory guidance replaced with advice

Full reopening was allowed from this date, with the previous guidance being advised instead of the measures being compulsory.

Collecting customer data was no longer a legal requirement, the same rules were in place for social distancing and face coverings for customers or staff.

Furthermore, nightclubs were allowed to reopen for the first time since March 2020.

Friday 1 October 2021 – VAT rises

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the temporary 5% VAT rate on food, accommodation and soft drinks would be increasing to 12.5% until April 2022, when it will return to 20%.

Wednesday 8 December 2021 – Plan B unveiled

Johnson stated England would be moving to Plan B, following the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

While the Prime Minister announced the legal requirement to wear a face covering would be extended to most public indoor venues, hospitality settings were exempt from this​, it was later revealed.

In addition, he urged those who could work from home to do so, impacting trade for venues in towns and city centres.

This caused a double-digit sales drop​ over the festive period of 2021 for Britain’s managed pub, bar and restaurant groups, according to reports, with many Christmas parties and gatherings cancelled or postponed until the new year.

Wednesday 15 December 2021 – Covid passes for nightclubs introduced

Proof of vaccine status or a negative lateral flow test came into force for nightclub entry​ after MPs voted in favour of the move.

Friday 8 January 2022 – Omicron grants ready

The Government announced local authorities had received the funding​ for the Omicron Hospitality and Leisure Grants.

Thursday 27 January 2022 – Plan B lifted

Restrictions including mandatory mask wearing, table service and working from home were lifted from this date​ and trade bodies welcomed the news.

Thursday 24 February 2022 – Living with Covid

The trade welcomed Johnson’s announcement​ that all Covid restrictions in the UK will be lifted from 24 February alongside calls for the Government to continue to support the sector.

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