Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants in England may soon be able to reopen their doors for the first time since lockdown began in March. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to confirm if the hospitality sector can reopen on 4 July.
Mr Johnson is also expected to announce 2m (6ft) social distancing in England will be relaxed, with some conditions.
But despite the easing of restrictions, a trip to a local bar or place to eat could be a very different experience from how it was before the coronavirus outbreak.
When will reopening begin?
In its plan published on 11 May, the government said that the hospitality sector – which includes pubs, bars and restaurants – could start to reopen “no earlier than 4 July”, if Covid-19 safety guidelines could be met.
It has yet to announce details of what these guidelines would be, but they are expected to include rules on social distancing, heightened hygiene procedures and protection of bar and restaurant staff.
What are the rules now?
On 20 March, all pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes were asked to shut in order to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The only exceptions to this were cafes and canteens at a few selected places such as schools, hospitals and prisons.
Since then, many restaurants have started offering food delivery and takeaways in order to generate income while their doors are closed. Some pubs have also been allowed to offer takeaway beers.
What about the rest of the UK?
Each nation is setting its own rules for the reopening of food and drink outlets:
- The Scottish government will make a decision on reopening outdoor spaces at pubs and restaurants on or around 2 July. The hospitality sector in Scotland has been told to prepare to reopen on 15 July
- The next review of Wales’s lockdown measures is due on 9 July. The Welsh government has promised talks with the hospitality sector about a “potential phased” reopening of pubs, cafes and restaurants, but no dates have been given for that happening
- In Northern Ireland, pubs and restaurants can open from 3 July
What are the main obstacles to reopening?
The chief worry for many people in the hospitality industry is the issue of social distancing. Some have insisted that the current 2m social distancing makes it impossible for bars, cafes and restaurants to make a profit.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the industry body UK Hospitality, says that with a 2m rule, outlets would be only able to make about 30% of normal revenues, whereas 1m would increase that to 60-75%.
Some Conservative MPs have added their support for reducing social distancing, and the prime minister said on 10 June that the 2m guidance was “under constant review”.
What other measures could be taken?
At the weekend, Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested people visiting pubs may have to register before going for a pint.
He said the government is looking at ways to strengthen contact tracing, as the economy reopens.
The Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca says it is considering a range of measures to keep staff and workers safe.
Customers are likely to be given the option of ordering food on apps, while staff will be encouraged to wash their hands every 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Wetherspoons pub chain has said its staff will be provided with face masks and protective eyewear and it will run a reduced food menu.
Bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise will be replaced by individual sachets. Customers will also be encouraged to sit outside in pub gardens, while some indoor seating areas will be separated by Perspex screens.
How is the hospitality sector coping during lockdown?
The hospitality sector was the third-largest employer in the country in 2018, according to UK Hospitality.
But many restaurants and cafes were already struggling even before the Covid-19 outbreak, in the face of rising rents and falling consumer spending.
3rdlargest UK employer in 2018
3.2 millionworkers in the sector
99%of hospitality businesses are SMEs
£130bnannual turnover in 2018
67%expect it will be “months” before going to a restaurant
Source: UK Hospitality, EY
Thousands of workers in the industry have been furloughed under the government’s job retention scheme, which allows them to receive 80% of their monthly salary up to £2,500.
What have other countries done?
Many other countries have already reopened restaurants, bars and cafes around the world. In some cases they have had the use of lower social distancing recommendations – in France, for example, the recommended distance between customer and staff is 1m.
- Eating and drinking establishments in Paris can now serve customers on outside terraces, but staff must wear masks, and customers must also wear masks when moving around
- In Berlin, restaurants, cafes and snack kiosks are open, and people from two separate households are allowed to share a table, if they keep a distance of 1.5m from each other
- Spanish bars and restaurants have now been allowed to reopen if they stick to social distancing rules and only operate at 50% capacity
- Restaurants, bars and cafes in Italy reopened in May – restaurants must host reduced numbers of diners, with tables further apart and plastic shields to separate customers