Updated: UK bars, pubs and restaurants told to close

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told pubs, bars and restaurants to close “as soon as they reasonably can” and not re-open to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.

In a press conference this afternoon (20 March), Johnson said the measures are “intended to be temporary” but the speed of the UK’s recovery “depends entirely on our collective ability to get on top of the virus now.”

“We are telling cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not to open tomorrow,” he said, but added they can “continue to provide take out services.”

“Night clubs, theatres, gyms and leisure centres should close on same time scale.

“These are places where people come together and indeed the whole purpose is to bring people together.”

The government announced a raft of measures to safeguard businesses and their employers, including paying people’s wages up to £2,500 per month if they are not working during the outbreak.

At the start of this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised UK citizens to stay away from social venues like restaurants, pubs, bars, theatres and music venues.

Now, he said the government had the power to enforce the closure of such establishments, but did not deem it necessary at this stage.

The PM stressed that people shouldn’t go out tonight, and “as far as possible we want you to stay at home.” Johnson fell short of explaining how closures would be enforced, although said the governments had the means to do so.

“In reality I think everybody can see the imperative of doing what is necessary to protect our NHS.”

The news was welcomed by the chairman of the Campaign fro Real Ale (CAMRA), who said many pubs had been left “in limbo” this week because they were not given clear instruction on whether or not they should stay open.

Antona said Johnson’s speech showed “exactly the type of decisive leadership that has been called for this week as many pubs hung in limbo.”

“Any employer in the country, small or large, charitable or non profit will be able to contact HMRC to cover people who are not working but are … kept on the pay roll,” Johnson said.

In addition, Johnson said the government is deferring the next quarter of Value Added Tax (VAT) payments.

“No business will pay VAT between now and the end of June. That is an injection of £30 billion to businesses.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the government is taking “unprecedented steps” to protect the wider public from a mass outbreak.

“We are now closing restaurants, shops and bars.,” he said. “Those steps are necessary to save lives.”

“I cannot promise you that no one will face hardship in the weeks ahead.”

Sunak added that the government will step in to pay 80% of all workers’ wages in the UK, and make a grant of up to £2,500 per month.

This scheme will be backdated to 1 March, and will last until the end of June.

The plan, which Sunak called the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, would be available to “any employer in the country”, and the scheme will be implemented for “longer if necessary”.

Earlier this week, Sunak extended the business rates holiday announced in the Spring budget to cover all businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sector. He also said that said that for those businesses that have insurance policies which cover pandemics, that “the government action is sufficient and will allow businesses to make an insurance claim against their policy”.

Jane Pendlebury, who is CEO of HOSPA, the Hospitality Professionals Association. Jane said the pledge to pay staff wages will be a “huge relief” for many businesses.

“One of the biggest fears amongst hospitality operators is how they can pay their non-working staff,” she said, “these fears are now greatly allayed.

“Given the need for flexible business models, this will enable operators to streamline their operations, allowing them to invite in only those that need to work whilst still being able to pay their broader staff base; offering a bedrock of stability from which they can adapt their offering to work in the current circumstances.”

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