Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that restaurants, pubs, and cafes can reopen for outdoor dining in England no earlier than 12 April. Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon, 22 February, Johnson also said that hospitality venues would begin to serve limited numbers of customers inside dining rooms no earlier than 17 May.
Coming after a week of speculation, clamour, and leaks, Johnson, who will address the nation at 7 p.m., confirmed a new four step plan, which is outlined below. Johnson said “we must always be humble in the face of nature, we must always be cautious.”
He said he hoped that this plan would be “irreversible… that the end really is in sight.”
- 8 March — schools reopen; hospitality limited to takeaway and delivery; meet one person from outside their household, such as “a coffee on a bench”
- 29 March — Easter holiday — “rule of six” returns outdoors. People no longer legally required to stay at home, though many restrictions will remain in place.
- 12 April — Non-essential retail and outdoor spaces are permitted to open, including “beer gardens” and “alcohol takeaways.” No indoor social mixing will be allowed, but pubs and restaurants will be open for outdoor dining according to the “rule of six.” Curfews and the scotch egg debate will no longer apply.
- 17 May — Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars can reopen for indoor dining. Two households will be able to mix indoors, with the “rule of six” reintroduced.
- 21 June — “All legal limits on social contact” will be removed, with the reopening of large events like theatre performances and nightclubs.
There will be at least five weeks between the lifting of each set of restrictions, and crucially, an announcement will be made on whether or not a given step will be delayed seven days in advance — a respite for restaurants and pubs who felt previous changes were too short notice.
Moving any faster, the Prime Minister said, “would be acting before we know the impact of each step.”
He confirmed that restrictions will be eased nationally, putting paid to the unpopular tiered restrictions in different regions of the country.
This is Johnson’s “cautious and irreversible” plan, one that is likely to remain unreversed because the government has set up four tests it must meet at each stage, tests it can almost certainly count on passing.
- The vaccine programme continues successfully
- Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently reducing the number of people dying with the virus or hospitalised
- Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
- The assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern.
“The sequence will be driven by the evidence,” Johnson said. “At every stage, our decisions will be driven by data, not dates.”
Regarding the support packages for hospitality businesses that are due to expire at the end of March, Johnson anticipated those questions. “We will not pull the rug out,” Johnson said. Now, though, all eyes turn to chancellor Rishi Sunak who will be expected to confirm the extension of vital support systems, such as the VAT cut and the furlough scheme. Sunak will be under pressure when he delivers his Budget on 3 March to introduce support that is commensurate to the extended period in which businesses now find themselves unable to trade, or trade at a level which secures their viability.
Stay tuned for reaction from the restaurants, and their workers soon.