Boris Johnson has been warned by one of the Government’s own advisers that a delay to lifting Covid-19 restrictions will have an "extremely damaging" effect on the economy and mental health.
Prof Robert Dingwall, who sits on a series of coronavirus advisory committees, including the New and Emerging Respiratory Threats Advisory Group and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, urged the Prime Minister to press ahead with his original roadmap that should have seen "all legal limits on social contact" removed on June 21.
Prof Dingwall said on Sunday: “It is extremely damaging to business confidence, the economy, morale – especially since there isn’t really a clear justification for it. What we are seeing is the beginning of what endemic Covid looks like and we should be unlocking and living with that.
“I have been saying for 10 days now the only thing that would persuade me [not to lift restrictions] is a significant increase in intensive care admissions, and that is not happening.”
Instead, it is likely that – apart from some possible tinkering at the margins – there will be no further easing despite the success of the vaccination programme.
That is likely to mean pubs will be restricted to table service, and theatres and other indoor venues restricted to 50 per cent capacity. Nightclubs are expected to remain closed. The guidance that "everyone who can work from home must do so" will also remain in place, it is understood.
‘Risk of catastrophic collapse’
Prof Dingwall’s concerns echo those across the hospitality and entertainment sectors, which have all warned of the dire consequences of sticking with social distancing restrictions.
Britain’s hospitality industry said on Sunday that 300,000 jobs were now being put at risk by any delay in an industry that estimates a loss of £87billion in sales since the start of the pandemic. The trade body UKHospitality said a further month’s delay would wipe an extra £3billion off the industry
Even Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor and a vocal advocate for lockdowns, has written to Mr Johnson warning the capital is "at risk of catastrophic collapse" and of the "severe consequences for businesses who have suffered so much already".
Mr Khan said: "As long as social distancing is in place, London’s hospitality, nightlife and cultural sectors, which have been hardest hit by the pandemic, will remain unable to reopen or fully reopen in an economically viable way."
Councillor Rachael Robathan, the leader of Tory-run Westminster City Council, also warned Mr Johnson of the "devastating" consequences of any delay and called for financial support.
She said on Sunday: "Central London cannot afford any slippage in the fight to revive our economy. Footfall numbers are still down, office workers are staying away in significant numbers and central areas of the City are hurting.
"These are desperate times for theatre owners and the creative industries, and some have made it clear to me their businesses are just not viable unless social distancing is lifted soon."
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UKHospitality, said: "A full and final ending of restrictions is the only way to ensure that businesses in this sector can trade profitably. If Government decides it has to keep some restrictions in place after June 21, then it must prioritise those that do the least damage to business and commit to further supporting the sector.
"Hospitality is desperate to get back to what it does best and can play a key role in the economic recovery of the UK – but only if it is given permission to trade and proper support."
Here are the issues facing several sectors, and the potential impact on them if proposed restrictions are not lifted.
Pubs and restaurants
The British Beer & Pub Association said trade was 20 per cent lower as a result of restrictions that require customers to be served at tables. The trade body has called for "grant support" if June 21 restrictions are not removed.
It estimates that one in 20 pubs has stayed shut even after drinking indoors returned in May. Restaurants and cafes – especially in central London and other major cities – have struggled and some have stayed closed because of the absence of office workers and international visitors.
Current rules prevent weddings taking place with any more than 30 guests. Tens of thousands of couples – many of whom had delayed their marriages from last year – will be left distraught, and seriously out of pocket, if the cap on numbers is not lifted on June 21.
Mark Dawson, of the Wedding Venue Support Group, has insisted the 30-capacity figure was an arbitrary limit, based on a "hunch" from scientists and without empirical data to back it up.
There is a suggestion the Prime Minister could increase the capacity, depending on venue size. But couples who cancel could be left owing thousands of pounds to caterers, while hoping insurance companies will pay out.
Lord Lloyd-Webber is pleading for theatres to be thrown a lifeline
Credit: Rii Schroer
Under current rules, theatres can operate at 50 per cent capacity or else to a limit of 1,000 – whichever is the lower. Blockbuster productions, with high costs and big casts, remain commercially unviable.
Andrew Lloyd Webber threatened last week to ignore the law and open his new musical Cinderella at full capacity. It is due to begin previews on June 25.
It remains to be seen if he carries out the threat. On Sunday, Lord Lloyd-Webber pleaded with ministers to increase the permitted attendance from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.
Music promoters have warned of impending doom if the restrictions on outdoor gatherings are not lifted, as well as capacity limits of 50 per cent (or a 1,000 maximum audiences) indoors.
Vince Power, the music venue owner, said a series of gigs at his flagship PowerHaus (formerly Dingwall’s) in Camden planned to mark the June 21 roadmap date would have to be cancelled if restrictions remain in place because they are not economically viable. It will leave him about £150,000 out of pocket.
Melvin Benn, the promoter of Latitude and the Reading and Leeds festivals, said: “It would be beyond devastation if we had to cancel, not just for me but the whole industry.”
England football fans leave Wembley after the team's opening match of the Euros. It was a trial event for crowds
Credit: Anadolu Agency
The largest outdoor arenas where crowds can be spread out are allowed to host up to 10,000 fans or else a quarter of capacity, depending on which is the lower. Smaller venues are restricted to 4,000 spectators or 50 per cent capacity.
Pilot test events appeared to show little or no evidence that Covid-19 was being spread at outdoor events and fans have been allowed at Wembley for the Euro championships as part of the pilot project. But if the Government decides to keep restrictions in place – not least because of problems of large crowds needing to take public transport on match days and concern over meeting in pubs – then the knock-on effect for spectator sports would be devastating.
Back to work
The government guidance remains that "everyone who can work from home must do so" and this is now not expected to change as had been hoped on June 21. The knock-on effect has seen commuter numbers drop sharply, with city centre pubs, bars and cafes that cater for office workers taking a dramatic hit.