People in the UK have been told to avoid social contact, work from home and stay away from pubs and bars in an effort to slow down the rise of coronavirus (Covid-19) cases.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that the UK could be approaching the “fast growth of the upward curve” of confirmed coronavirus cases, which now means cases are expected to double every five days, unless “drastic action” can be taken.
Although he said the government would not enforce the closure of theatres, restaurants, pubs and bars, it has “the powers if necessary” to do so.
Addressing the media on Monday afternoon (16 March), Johnson said: “Now is the time for everyone to stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel.”
He said this is particularly important for people who are over-70, pregnant women, and anyone with underlying health issues.
When asked by the BBC whether this means that pubs, bars, restaurants and theatres would close, Johnson said the government was giving “very strong advice that public venues such as theatres…should not be visited.”
“The proprietors of those premises are taking the logical steps that you’d image. You’re seeing the change happen already”
“As for enforcement we have the powers if necessary, but I don’t believe that it will be necessary to use those powers.”
“When it comes to care homes and visitors, you can take it from what we’ve just said about avoiding all unnecessary contact for those people.”
At the time of writing, there are currently 1,543 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, up by 171 in 24 hours. A patient in Wrexham also became 35th person in the UK to die of the virus.
The PM also said the government would no longer “support” mass gatherings. Tastings across the UK have already been cancelled due to the uncertain climate, while many drinks shows have also been either postponed or axed altogether worldwide.
It follows emergency policies implemented by the Spanish and Italian governments which have been forced into self isolation in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. On 9 March, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine, restricting the movement of the population except for necessity, work, and health circumstances, in response to the growing outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. More than 100 million Europeans are now living under lockdown as Spain joined Italy in imposing a national quarantine last weekend.
Over the weekend, the Irish government also advised that all of the country’s bars and pubs should shut this week due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dr. Tony Holohan, chief medical officer for the Irish Department of Health, said the government is calling on all members of the public not to engage in St Patrick’s Day celebrations or “organise or participate in any parties in private house or other venues which would put other peoples lives at risk.”
“Everyone is asked to reduce their social contact over this time period. House parties/ Covid-19 parties carry the same risks as being in a pub or club, therefore people should not organise or attend them. The virus is now in our community, it is up to us to limit its spread.”
The new policy could deliver a hammer blow to the UK’s hospitality industry, which has already seen hundreds of closures in recent years as pub and restaurant owners have struggled to pay rising business rates.
Pub, bar and hotel bookings in the UK have already plummeted due to the public fear of coronavirus, according to trade body UKHospitality.
Footfall is expected to drop dramatically over the coming weeks, and fell by 44% over the weekend (14-15 March) compared to the same period last year.
The government’s decision to not force pubs and restaurants to close means that businesses cannot claim cover from insurers. The UK’s biggest pub group, Ei Group, has warned its publicans that its insurance policy with the firm Zurich would not allow them to claim compensation.
A letter to managers seen by the Guardian read: “It has been confirmed that Zurich is not including Covid-19 in its notifiable diseases section. As such, any business affected by Covid-19 will not be able to claim for loss of trade.”
Meanwhile James Calder, the chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), said that “advising people to stay away from pubs, rather than ordering them to close is an ill thought through halfway house.”
He said the trade body is in talks with the Treasury and Downing Street and we will keep the UK’s small independent brewers updated if policies are changed.
Pubs and small brewers, he said, “need direct Government help if they are to survive.”
Some beer businesses have already started offering takeaway services to keep cash coming in. Signature Brew, an independent brewery with on-trade sites in north and east London, said it will launch Click & Collect options across its venues in Hackney and Waltham Forest for anyone concerned about social distancing. The brewery will also sell a “Pub in a Box” which contains a selection of beers, glasses, beer mats, a vinyl record, a pub quiz, a playlist, pub snacks.
“In line with government guidance; we’re chatting to our pub and venue stockists to support them in whatever ways we can,” co-founder Sam McGregor said.
Emma McClarkin, the head of the British Beer and Pub Association, said the new measures will impact pubs “with devastating effect.”
“The very existence of thousands of pubs and a lot more jobs is now at risk.”
McClarkin added that urgent measures to support cash flow and help businesses to cut costs and stay afloat when footfall is down is “an absolute necessity.”