Covid: Pubs and restaurants in England to have 10pm closing times

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All pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues in England must have a 22:00 BST closing time from Thursday, to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

The sector will also be restricted by law to table service only.

The measures will be set out by the prime minister in Parliament before an address to the nation to be broadcast live at 20:00 on Tuesday.

It comes as the UK’s Covid-19 alert level moves to 4, meaning transmission is “high or rising exponentially”.

The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned there could be 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day by mid-October without further action – which, he said, could lead to more than 200 deaths per day by mid-November.

On Monday, a further 4,368 daily cases and 11 deaths were reported in the UK. There were 3,899 cases reported on Sunday.

Further restrictions will also be announced in Scotland on Tuesday, while restrictions on households mixing indoors will be will be extended to all of Northern Ireland.

Also from 18:00 BST on Tuesday, four more counties in south Wales will face new measures, including a 23:00 curfew for pubs and bars.

The UK cabinet will meet on Tuesday morning and Boris Johnson will also chair a Cobra emergency meeting – which will be attended by the leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Speaking about the new closing times, a No 10 spokesperson said: “No-one underestimates the challenges the new measures will pose to many individuals and businesses.

“We know this won’t be easy, but we must take further action to control the resurgence in cases of the virus and protect the NHS.”

Tighter restrictions on pub and restaurant opening times are already in place in parts of north-east and north-west England, and Wales.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association, said the announcement was “yet another devastating blow” and warned it would result in a “surge of unregulated events and house parties”.

Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, said the move “seems to have emerged from a random policy generator” and called on the government to publish the evidence upon which it was based.

“While mandatory table service has been part of the successful Swedish approach and may have merit, the new closing time will be devastating to a hospitality sector that was already suffering after the first lockdown,” he said.

What difference will it make?

People are understandably asking what difference closing at 22:00 makes. Coupled with the table service law, it will be little more than a marginal gain.

But what ministers hope is that the move, along with the rule of six that came into force last week, will act as a warning to the public that efforts to curb the virus need to be redoubled.

What remains to be seen is whether any other restrictions will accompany this move.

Behind the scenes both ministers and their advisers have argued over what is the right thing to do and how much the public will be willing to tolerate.

It seems inevitable that the virus will continue to spread – that’s what respiratory viruses do during winter, especially one for which there is limited immunity and no vaccine.

But how quickly and widely is something no one knows.

The risk of trying to suppress the virus is the government will soon find itself having to make another decision about further steps.

How far are ministers prepared to go? Every restriction that is taken has a negative consequence to society.

But the nature of the virus means lives will undoubtedly be lost the more it spreads. Balancing those two harms will define the next six months.

New measures will also come into force in Lancashire, Merseyside, parts of the Midlands and West Yorkshire from Tuesday.

Other areas of England, Scotland and Wales are already under local lockdown, with restrictions including a ban on mixing with other households.

The prime minister’s announcement on closing times comes after a series of meetings over the weekend, including with the government’s chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty, Chancellor Rishi Sunk and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.