Invitation to 'visit the North' after Boris Johnson sets out lockdown exit strategy

Date published: 22 February 2021

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out his Government's exit strategy for easing the latest Covid lockdown restrictions, but there has been a lukewarm reception from the hospitality sector in particular.

Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons earlier this afternoon, Mr Johnson spelled out a four-step plan, which will not be completed until the summer.

Mr Johnson has said there will be at least five weeks between stages to assess the impact on the spread of the virus and prepare businesses for the next move.

Step one, from March 8, will see schools reopening and two people allowed to meet outdoors.

From March 29, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed.

Outdoor sports, including football, golf and tennis, will also be allowed to resume from March 29.

Step two would see shops, hairdressers, gyms and outdoor hospitality reopening from April 12, while outdoor hospitality will resume from that date too, as well as zoos and theme parks.

Step three would start on May 17, with most social contact rules lifted, as well as limited mixing indoors.

The Prime Minister hopes that step four, from June 21, would see the end of all legal limits on social contact.

Following Mr Johnson’s Commons announcement, Sacha Lord, the Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester, has issued a challenge to the powers-that-be.

"I extend an open invitation to the Government to visit the North,” he said.

“In particular the most working class areas of Greater Manchester which rely on their local, traditional pubs and social clubs for a sense of community and to stave off isolation and loneliness.

“The vast majority of these pubs do not have beer gardens, a luxury only reserved for middle class areas who have the space and financial capabilities.

“It is once again the working class who are hardest hit by the decisions coming from Westminster during this pandemic.

“Secondly, for the operators across the UK who can trade outdoors, breaking even is not a possibility here.

Sacha Lord, the Night Time Economy Adviser for Greater Manchester

“They cannot pay rents, rates and bills or afford to take staff off furlough if they are only serving to 10% capacity.

“Many will simply choose not to reopen.

“With 'data not dates' being touted as the reasoning behind decisions, we see no reason why indoor hospitality cannot reopen at the same time as non-essential retail.

“The hospitality sector has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on ensuring venues are Covid secure and we still have no data to confirm they are a high risk area of transmission.

“I see no justification for the delay in reopening.

“Lastly, we need urgent clarity on the financial support operators will have access to, and cannot afford to wait until the Chancellor's budget is announced in ten days.

“Asking business owners to wait in limbo to find out if they can financially survive and afford to keep their livelihoods will be terrifying and have huge implications on mental health, stress and anxiety for owners and their employees."

Greg Mulholland, Campaign Director of the Campaign for Pubs, said: “Despite this being the third lockdown and with pubs having been closed for such a huge proportion of the last year, the Government has still not given any certainty for publicans as to when they may be able to finally, properly open their pubs again, which is disastrous for their businesses but also for mental health.”

Mr Johnson will hold a televised press conference at 7pm this evening (Monday).

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