By Paul Sandle and Ben Dangerfield
LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Some pubs and restaurants
already reeling from the pandemic face ruin, owners warned on
Tuesday, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered them
to close early for the next six months to help curb rapidly
rising COVID-19 infections.
Some operators said the new restrictions, which include a
ban on serving customers at the bar, could sound the death knell
for businesses that were forced to shut for 15 weeks earlier
"We may as well not open some of our bars," said Martin
Wolstencroft, CEO of Arc Inspirations, which runs 17 bars and
restaurants in northern England. "After 10 o'clock is really
when we start making money because that's when we get busier."
"This is going to be the final nail in the coffin for many,
many operators," he told BBC radio.
As part of a package of new restrictions, Johnson said all
hospitality venues must close at 10 p.m., a peak time for many.
The measures came after scientists warned that deaths from
the disease could soar without urgent action. The number of new
cases is rising fastest among those aged 20-29, although other,
more vulnerable groups, are also at risk.
"I am sorry this will hurt many businesses just getting back
on their feet, but we must act to stop the virus from being
transmitted in bars and restaurants," he said.
Thomas Kidd, director of Adventure Bar Group which has nine
outlets in London, said rules were changing too often.
"The constant moving feast makes it very difficult to know
what we are planning for ... People don't mind fighting the
fight today if they understand where we're working towards."
PUBS NOT TO BLAME
Tim Martin, chairman of JD Wetherspoon, told Reuters
there was no evidence to show the virus was spreading in pubs.
Instead, private gatherings were to blame, he said.
Pubs could be kept safe by managers enforcing social
distancing, with compliance checked by licensing authorities who
had access to closed circuit TV, he added.
According to Martin, more than 800 of his pubs had reported
no positive tests for the coronavirus, 40 had one and a handful
had more than one, despite about 32 million customer visits in
the 10 weeks since July 4.
There had been 66 positive tests for COVID-19 among its
41,564 employees during this time, the company said.
Shares in pubs and restaurant operators, already battered by
the impact of COVID-19, fell on Monday as news of the tougher
measures trickled through.
Underlining the crisis facing the industry, hotels and
restaurants operator Whitbread said on Tuesday it
planned to cut up to 6,000 jobs.
Public opinion on whether the measures were necessary or
would be effective were mixed.
"I think probably just closing the bars at 10 ultimately
won't go far enough and they'll probably need to do a bit more
looking at how the curve is going up quite sharply," art
director Emma Leaney said.
Wetherspoon's Martin said the government was already losing
the country because its rules were over-complicated and the
message had changed too much.
"We've adopted a Big Brother approach, we are coming out
with more and more regulations because the government wants to
be seen to be doing things," he said.
"If you trust people and tell them what's good for them and
their colleagues and family they will do it. Threaten people,
involve the police, it's just the wrong approach."
(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Ben Dangerfield; Editing by Mike