Covid: Pubs and restaurants call for urgent helpon December 20, 2021 at 9:20 am

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Hospitality firms say action is needed “in the next 24 hours” as they struggle with the Omicron impact.

Empty restaurant

Image source, Getty Images

The boss of pub chain Greene King says bookings have been “decimated” across the business amid the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Chief executive Nick Mackenzie said the country was in lockdown “in all but name”, due to government’s messaging “around reducing social contact”.

He called on the government for “urgent” help, with others saying firms needed support “in the next 24 hours”.

The government is yet to offer further measures for businesses struggling.

Restaurants and pubs have been dealing with large numbers of cancellations in the run-up to Christmas as fears have risen over the spread of Omicron, particularly in London.

Greene King faced an “incredibly difficult” situation during what would usually be its busiest trading period of the year, Mr Mackenzie said.

“Demand has dropped, bookings have been decimated, some parts of the country we are 70-80% down on 2019,” he said.

Mr Mackenzie said the government “should be commended” for the measures it brought in to help hospitality businesses earlier in the pandemic, but added that the situation was “urgent again now”.

“We need them to move towards things like furlough support for [pubs] that we are having to close or those severely impacted, business rates relief, and removal of the cap on business rates.”

‘Lockdown by stealth’

David Page, the chairman of Fulham Shore, which runs the Real Greek and Franco Manca restaurant chains, urged Chancellor Rishi Sunak to announce further support for businesses “in the next 24 hours”.

Mr Page said the country was in “lockdown by stealth” due to government advice to stay away from crowded areas, “which may be a very good idea health-wise but it’s ruining a lot of small businesses”.

“The chancellor better get his act together otherwise it’s going to be a really horrible Christmas for our sector,” he added.

Mr Page said that while city centre branches of Fulham Shore’s restaurants were experiencing a dip in sales, trade in commuter areas across England was up.

“We have got a geographical spread, that helps us. If you’re exposed to central London and you’ve only got one or two sites, you’re in trouble at the moment,” he said.

The government has not ruled out bringing in further Covid restrictions before Christmas, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show there were “no guarantees” in a pandemic.

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