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COVID-19 Re-Opening Strategy

On 20th March 2020, by order of the government, licensed premises in the UK were ordered to close as part of the government lockdown and those premises have remain closed. The leisure sector has as a result been one of the most hardest hit and there are a number of reports emerging as to the potential long term consequence on the industry, its operators and employees. I am already seeing reports of notices of intent to appoint administrators. The Prime Minister’s speech on the 10th May 2020 which was followed by the issuing of a 60 page document set out the government’s proposals for relaxing lockdown but it is important to note that any relaxation is dependant on 5 factors;

  • NHS Capacity
  • The ‘R’ number remaining below 1
  • The number of deaths reducing
  • Sufficient PPE
  • No second spike

The opening of clubs, bars and gambling premises will only be considered as part of Step 3 of the government’s relaxation of the lockdown position and at the moment there is very little government information about Step 3. However it may be that some of the guidance for shops which are currently open in Step 1, and those proposed to be opening in Step 2, is of assistance.

The Current Position for the Leisure and Entertainment Industry

Nightclubs, arcades, bowling alleys, bingo halls, casinos, betting shops, cinemas, theatres, concert halls and so on are all currently closed. The opening of the above will be considered as part of Step 3 through various government taskforces

Similarly, restaurants and public houses, wine bars or other food and drink establishments including within hotels and members’ clubs are also currently closed.

The exception for this is for food delivery and takeaway services which can remain operational (this can be a new activity supported by the new permitted development rights in England). This covers the provision of hot or cold food that has been prepared for consumers for collection or delivery to be consumed, reheated or cooked by consumers off the premises.

Another exception is the provision of room service in hotels and accommodation.

The reopening of restaurants, public houses and other food and drink establishments will also be considered as part of Step 3 using the various taskforces.

Hotels are currently open for the following;

  • If a person’s primary residence is unavailable, or a person primarily lives in a hotel, they can continue to live in a hotel
  • Critical workers/non UK residents, if their primary residence is unavailable they can live in a hotel where required
  • A person unable to return to their main residence, or a non-UK resident unable to travel, may stay in a hotel
  • A person unable to move into a new home (due to current restrictions) can stay at a hotel
  • If a hotel is providing rooms to support homeless or vulnerable people who cannot safely remain at home they may continue to do to so (with arrangements through local authorities and other public bodies)
  • A person who is attending a funeral, and it would be impractical to return home, can stay in a hotel
  • Hotels are allowed to host blood donation sessions.

Aside from these exceptions, hotels remain closed for the time being. Their re-opening will be considered as part of step 3.

Step 3- The opening of ‘some’ of the remaining businesses

The aim of Step 3 is to open businesses including hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation) and leisure facilities (like cinemas) which were required to close. This is extremely dependant on how steps 1 and 2 go, and the 5 factors referred to above, all of which is determining the government’s strategy.

Pubs and restaurants are currently being considered by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy taskforce. Recreation and leisure, including tourism, culture and heritage, libraries, entertainment and sport are being considered by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport taskforce.

The Government’s current planning assumption is that this step will begin be no earlier than 4th July 2020.

If premises were to re-open they would have to meet the COVID-19 Secure guidelines, including social distancing which will presumably mean that some venues may still not be able to open, for example if they are extremely crowded by nature. The government has already said that it is likely outdoor venues will open earlier than indoor public spaces and leisure facilities, due to nature of the spread of the virus and the core purpose of much of the leisure industry being social interaction.

I imagine more will be learnt about what is possible and how the reopening of the leisure industry will work when step 2 begins, and non-essential retail opens. It is likely that pubs, cinemas and such venues will have to consider deploying similar social distancing tactics such as limiting numbers and allowing pre booked seats only. This will create a dilemma for many operators who have commented that the cost of re-opening but with strict controls on numbers etc will not be financially viable. Many may choose to remain closed.

For reference, these are some steps currently in place for open retail venues (like supermarkets) and are the sort of restrictions it is likely we will see continued when non-essential retail opens:

  • Defining the number of customers that can reasonably follow 2m social distancing within the store and any outdoor selling areas. Take into account total floor space as well as likely pinch points and busy areas.
  •  Limiting the number of customers in the store, overall and in any particular congestion areas, for example doorways between outside and inside spaces.
  • Suspending or reducing customer services that cannot be undertaken without contravening social distancing guidelines. This may include re-thinking how assistance is provided, for example, using fixed pairs of colleagues to lift heavy objects rather than a single colleague lifting with a customer.
  • Encouraging customers to shop alone where possible, unless they need specific assistance
  • Reminding customers who are accompanied by children that they are responsible for supervising them at all times and should follow social distancing guidelines.
  • Looking at how people walk through the shop and how you could adjust this to reduce congestion and contact between customers, for example, queue management or one-way flow, where possible. 
  • Ensuring any changes to entries, exit and queue management take into account reasonable adjustments for those who need them, including disabled shoppers.
  • Using outside premises for queuing where available and safe, for example some car parks.
  • Working with your local authority or landlord to take into account the impact of your processes on public spaces such as high streets and public car parks.
  • Having clearly designated positions from which colleagues can provide advice or assistance to customers whilst maintaining social distance.

 Can our licensed premises operate in the above circumstances? Will operators want to do so when it may not be financially viable?

It seems to us however that based  on the current information from the government, it is likely that only establishments where social distancing is possible will open in step 3, which will happen at the earliest 4th July and I am afraid that I still think that 4th July is optimistic and that late summer/the autumn is more likely. Perhaps some restaurants and cinemas will open at a limited capacity (for example with specific seats reserved), but the opening of venues like nightclubs, where crowding is prolific, is bound be pushed back further due to the struggles of maintaining social distancing. There may be a push to reopen venues with outdoor spaces, for example pub gardens, first or perhaps even earlier as it has been announced that outdoor areas are safer than indoor spaces.

I will continue to update everyone on the position as further information is released.