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There was good news yesterday when Boris Johnson announced that all remaining Covid restrictions in England were to be lifted. Possibly he went a little further than originally intended because the current political turmoil meant that he wanted to avoid another embarrassing backbench rebellion, but whatever the reason the outcome is most welcome. The work from home guidance was lifted immediately and the mask mandates and vaccine passports will go from Thursday of next week.
While the latest restrictions, introduced at the beginning of December, did not directly impact pubs and restaurants, they certainly did indirectly in terms both of reducing footfall in town and city centres and creating a heightened climate of fear that led to mass cancellations of seasonal bookings, as I reported here. While Christmas and New Year normally give pubs a boost, last year this trade was largely wiped out for the second year running.
Hopefully now the removal of restrictions will give the hospitality industry a clear run to recover and rebuild customer confidence during 2022, especially over the vital summer season. It also in political terms looks increasingly unlikely that restrictions will be reimposed. But it is important that pubs contribute to this by abandoning the pointless Covid safety theatre that remains fairly common. If you want a normal trading environment, you need to embrace normality rather than helping perpetuate a climate of fear.
I wrote in December how many of the dire predictions about the effect of Omicron had been greatly exaggerated, and so it has proved.
In the succeeding week, there has been plenty of evidence that the Omicron variant is relatively mild, and the return of restrictions might have been an over-reaction. It seems to conform to the general evolutionary path of viruses that they become more transmissible but less severe. Many media commentators going well beyond the usual lockdown sceptics have suggested that it was a step too far, and that we couldn’t live in a permanent state of fear.
The government have stated they will review the restrictions in three weeks’ time, and we can hope that they will rescind them, although such back-tracking would lead to a lot of egg on face. But, even then, it would be just a week before Christmas, and too late to rescue much of the holiday season.
The pity is that it took them seven weeks to realise this rather than three, but at least they have in the end.
It has been very noticeable over the past few days how many politicians and commentators are embracing the liberalisation and backtracking on their previous support for lockdowns and restrictions. It is going to become like France after the war where it was well-nigh impossible to find anyone who didn’t claim to have been a member of the Resistance.
Scotland and Wales have not followed suit, and in fact never relaxed restrictions to the same extent as England during last year. This has not, however, resulted in any better figures for Covid deaths and infections, and has certainly produced a worse outcome for hospitality. It will be interesting to see how long they persist with this stance while seeing the English tourism and hospitality industries – and indeed the economy in general – forge ahead.