Publicans can expect to twiddle their thumbs for longer than almost anyone else – as minister for the cabinet office Michael Gove warns that even after clearance to re-open, a return to normal hospitality trading could be a prolonged affair.
An appearance by cabinet minister Michael Gove on television last weekend seemed to confirm pub industry fears that hospitality sectors could be the last to reopen as per lockdown regulations.
Gove’s outing on the Andrew Marr Show last Sunday followed on just hours after a daily briefing from government saw it announced that schools would not be re-opening next month – contradicting circulated reports that legislators were mulling a back-to-school order for May 11. The extension of school closures prompted show-host Marr to press Gove on just how long crowd-facing hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants could expect to endure mandatory closure – with Gove responding only that “a balanced judgement about which restrictions can be relaxed at what time.”
“The inference I draw from your question, which is that areas of hospitality will be among the last to exit the lockdown, yes, that is true,” he added. “They will be amongst the last.”
Gove said that the government’s caution was guided by the latest scientific understanding of the Covid-19 virus, but pledged that “the economic [and] social life of the nation can return over time.”
However, Gove also warned that even when public-facing businesses were allowed to reopen, a return to the “normality” of pre-Corona paradigms was likely to be a drawn out process.
“Even as some restrictions are lifted, the way in which our school, shops and factories operate will change as a result of what we know about this virus,” he remarked. “We want to make sure that the best scientific advice guides us as we take an approach to easing these restrictions in the right way with appropriate safeguards.”
Similar sentiments were expressed this weekend by UK Hospitality chief Kate Nicholls, who drew on Gove’s comments as an illustration of how her sector should be considered a “special case” when it came to potentially extended furloughed wages.
“When the lockdown ends, even if social distancing measures are relaxed, many businesses will not be able to operate fully and some might not be able to open at all,” she told the Morning Advertiser. “The government must ensure it provides continual support for businesses in our sector, specifically the ability to keep staff furloughed where they need to.”
But for how long? That question has been posed every single day this week post Gove commentary, leading to speculation that 2020 might be a virtual write-off for the hospitality sector. through to Christmas. But that fear, whilst not dismissed, seems almost unbelievable. Surely?