As ‘Stay Home’ changes to ‘Stay Alert’, the amusement machines sector is expected to stay closed until Autumn despite a 4 July starting date for pubs and restaurants that can be “Covid-19 secure”. Summer is in danger of being cancelled, leaving the industry in need of extended and extensive support.
The entire machines sector will need support well into 2021 as businesses face the growing prospect of being closed until Autumn despite the government’s recent announcement that pubs and restaurants could reopen by 4 July.
While larger restaurants and pubs that can “meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines” may be able to start “pilot reopenings” in as little as 8 weeks, smaller venues that can’t control the risk to their customers are unlikely to pass the test.
The government document says: “Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely at this point, or may be able to open safely only in part.
“Nevertheless, the government will wish to open as many businesses and public places as the data and information at the time allows.”
Boris Johnson further emphasised that 4 July should not be seen as a day of liberation for the hospitality sector, with the Prime Minister stressing “that all of this is conditional, it all depends on a series of big ifs”.
“It depends on all of us – the entire country – to follow the advice, to observe social distancing, and to keep that R (rate of transmission) down,” he said. “We must also recognise that this campaign against the virus has come at a colossal cost to our way of life.
“We can see it all around us in the shuttered shops and abandoned businesses and darkened pubs and restaurants.”
The government wants to keep transmission below R1; meaning each infected person infects less than one other person on average. This means reducing the propensity for crowding by closing venues that attract crowds. But for the machines sector, especially pubs and FECs, crowds are a necessity for good business. This means that come 4 July, the sector may be forced to choose between staying closed, or opening and struggling to break even.
Commenting on Facebook, pub general manager Chris Brannigan said: “Enforced social distancing in most pubs and bars with a vertical drinking focus will be impossible without a lot of security personnel and I can’t imagine many can afford that.
“I imagine it would be impossible to keep everyone two metres apart in all those busy, busy bars in London that are long and thin.”
Others in the industry highlighted the paradox of running a successful pub under social distancing, with several commenting on Facebook that it would not be viable to open until normality could resume.
“If enforced social distancing was to occur, I cannot see how we could operate profitably,” said one tenant of a national pubco. “Furthermore, our landlords are yet to offer any rent reduction and, should shutdown be more than two months, we will be in considerable debt before we reopen.”
agreed, adding that support must continue for pubs way beyond 4 July.
“We are keen to avoid a false start, and the support government has provided during the lockdown will also be needed during the recovery phase as maintaining social distancing will have a significant impact on pubs.”
And the same is true for the entire machines sector. No business owner enjoys shutting their doors, but increasing costs to reopen them without being able to resume normal business would be even worse – especially if it gives the government an excuse to reduce its support for businesses. Lockdown is a slowly sinking ship that everyone wants to leave, but trade associations can’t allow the government to push their industries into freezing water without a lifeboat – and support will almost certainly have to continue into 2021 for businesses to stay afloat.