Plans to relax rules on household mixing over the Christmas period have been branded a “mockery” of restrictions that will remain in place for pubs and the wider hospitality sector.
According to Government guidance published on Tuesday, people cannot meet up with their Christmas bubbles of up to three households inside pubs, hotels, retail, theatres or restaurants between December 23 and 27.
This is despite those within Christmas bubbles being able to visit each other’s homes and stay overnight during that period.
Rules covering meeting inside hospitality settings will depend on what tier of restrictions in England a venue is in.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “These plans for Christmas make a mockery of the extra restrictions being placed on pubs and the economic devastation they are facing this Christmas.
“How can it be that pubs cannot properly open while households can mix in private settings?
“The Government data has consistently shown that house-to-house transmission is one of the highest, whereas hospitality has accounted for as little as 2% of Covid incidences when open.
“Pubs are a controlled, safe and regulated environment to socialise in – following all Government guidelines and working with NHS track and trace. They are part of the solution for a safe and enjoyable Christmas, not the problem.
“It seems the Government has chosen to inflict unnecessary pain and irreversible damage on our sector without publishing evidence alongside these decisions.”
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, accused the Government of “muddled thinking” over the exclusion of hospitality businesses from the relaxed Christmas rules.
She said: “This is rapidly turning into the nightmare before Christmas for hospitality. While no-one begrudges families getting together over the festive season, the safest place to do so would be in well-managed and controlled hospitality venues.
“It is also surely better for hotels to be open and providing a place to stay than multiple households being cramped in a single house.”
Ms Nicholls added: “For the Government to exclude these businesses in these new rules demonstrates muddled thinking and will cause the sector yet more harm coming so soon after the announcement of the new tier restrictions.
“Hospitality venues should be considered part of the solution for providing people a well-deserved safe and enjoyable Christmas, especially given that allowing multiple households to mix in the confines of private homes presents an exponentially greater risk.”
Labour MP Emma Hardy, who represents Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, asked on Twitter: “Why can families not meet in a restaurant over the ‘relaxation’ period during Christmas? Our hospitality trade will not recover if they miss out on trade during this crucial period.”
Ms Hardy said she had submitted questions to the Government asking for “the evidence base” for the decision.
Ms McClarkin argued that pubs should be “fully compensated” if they could not open over Christmas.
“Christmas is the most important time of the year for trade in our sector,” she added.
“This year more than ever. Without it, thousands will not survive the winter unless the Government does the right thing and steps in with financial support to help them. That means grants that fully cover their fixed costs, like during the first lockdown.
“We all need some festive cheer after this tough year – and we want everyone to be able to enjoy a beer in their local pub with family and friends this Christmas, safely.
“After all, Christmas just won’t be the same if we can’t go to the local.”
JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin warned the Government’s policies could have a devastating effect on hospitality jobs.
He said in a statement: “No one in the Government seems to have any experience of running a business – and their current policies seem destined to cause the loss of a million jobs in hospitality, with further ‘ripple effect’ job losses throughout the economy.”
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said the Government had “ripped the vague remnants of Christmas spirit from the hands of many businesses within the sector”.
“The new restrictions coming in next week and relaxation for many businesses over Christmas, and the intentional exclusion of the night time economy within the Christmas plans, has made many frustrated and angry at the lack of consideration for people and businesses,” Mr Kill said.
He added: “The Government has simply got this wrong. It is an appalling misjudgement, at such an important time of year for everyone.
“Our sector has worked incredibly hard alongside Government departments, to ensure that our businesses are Covid Safe, only to be hit again with unworkable restrictions that have no evidence base.
“We have been intentionally sacrificed for other sectors to open during the festive period.”
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