Give us a week: Businesses urge clarity on England lockdown

Business

The Regent Street Christmas lights entitled ‘The Spirit of Christmas’ stand illuminated after being switched on yesterday without a ceremony as shops on the street lie temporarily closed due to England’s second coronavirus lockdown, in London, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. This week saw Britain on Wednesday become the fifth country in the world to record more than 50,000 coronavirus-related deaths and on Thursday to record 33,470 people testing positive for COVID-19, the highest daily number of new cases since the virus first struck. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AP) — Business leaders urged the British government on Tuesday to give them at least a week’s notice over what restrictions they will face when the lockdown in England expires in early December.

With the four-week lockdown due to end on Dec. 2, businesses forced to shut during November are hoping they will be able to reopen to salvage something of what is for many the most important trading period of the year.

Under the lockdown in England, the hospitality sector, such as pubs, restaurants, and entertainment venues, have had to close. Stores selling items deemed nonessential, such as books, clothing and sneakers, have also had to close, though they can provide online services.

The government has said it intends to revert to a localized approach when the lockdown ends, with areas still recording the most coronavirus infections facing the toughest restrictions. However, it has been reluctant to say what restrictions will be in place for any particular area.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told lawmakers on Tuesday that “it’s too early to say exactly” what will happen on Dec. 3.

Before the national lockdown started in England on Nov. 5, there were three tiers of restrictions. There’s growing speculation that another level of tighter restrictions will be introduced that potentially keeps more sectors closed.

Ralph Findlay, CEO of the Marston’s, the brewery which operates 1,300 pubs in England, bemoaned a lack of communication from the government, and urged it to not make the same mistakes in the run-up to the lockdown’s end.

“I don’t know what restrictions at this point I’ll be working to,” he told lawmakers on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee. “We need at least a week in order to plan what tier we are going into.”

Like other parts of Europe, the four nations of the U.K. have reimposed varying degrees of restrictions following a resurgence of the virus.

Scotland, which has retained a localized approach, went further Tuesday with the news that 11 of its 32 local authorities, including Glasgow, will be placed into its highest tier of coronavirus restrictions. The restrictions are set to run from Friday until Dec. 11.

“The infection rate in all of these areas remains stubbornly and worryingly high,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers.

There are some signs that the restrictions in England are working. However, the number of virus-related hospitalizations and deaths are set to continue to rise as there is a lag between someone falling ill and requiring health care. The U.K. has Europe’s highest official virus-related death toll at over 52,000.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said the social and economic impact of the latest England lockdown has been “severe” and that many firms face going bust.

“The most important thing is that we have real clarity that that reopening goes ahead as planned,” she said.

So far this year, she said 13,800 stores have had to close and that number will rise sharply if businesses can’t open for Christmas, not least because the online and logistics capacity of most retailers is “close to capacity.”

Kate Nicholls, the chief executive for the UKHospitality lobby group, also noted that businesses in the sector are “far less resilient” now than they were going into the spring lockdown because many have already depleted their cash reserves.

She said that the sector has already shed 660,000 jobs this year and is now back in “intensive care” as it misses out on revenues during the “golden quarter” between Halloween and New Year’s Eve.

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