UK businesses warn of ‘body blow’ from possible new Covid curbs

Business groups warned that the introduction of vaccine passports and a new work from home order would be a “body blow” to bars, restaurants and nightclubs that had been relying on Christmas trading to recover lost revenues.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce fresh restrictions in England this afternoon to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Craig Beaumont, chief of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, said that it would be a “body blow” to a hospitality industry already struggling after successive lockdowns.

Bar and restaurant owners describe the run-up to Christmas as the “golden quarter” when the industry makes most of its profits from spending on parties and drinks in the festive period.

Beaumont said that a requirement for vaccine passports would subdue demand, while the instruction to work from home for office staff would mean fewer people in towns and cities to support local businesses.

“It’s a double whammy. Christmas parties are already being cancelled, but this could turn the lights out for many struggling hospitality businesses.”

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, which represents the night-time sector, told the prime minister that “nightclubs and bars must not be thrown under the bus to save his own skin”.

The new restrictions, which have not yet been confirmed, would come after widespread anger over a Christmas party allegedly held at Number 10 last year, when the UK was under lockdown.

“The pre-Christmas period is absolutely crucial for our sector . . . Plan B including vaccine passports will have a devastating impact on a sector already so bruised by the pandemic,” Kill said.

“You do have to question the timing and rationale for this announcement. Is this sound evidence-based public policymaking, or is this an attempt to move the news agenda on from a damaging story about the Downing Street Christmas party?”

Office employers have also begun to prepare to reverse instructions to their staff to come back to the workplace.

Ross Mitchinson, co-chief executive at Numis, which has had 70-80 per cent of staff back to its London office, said the move would “change our plans, as we will follow the government guidelines . . . the good news is we have done it before and have proven to be able to operate effectively in a WFH scenario”.

Ashmore, a UK-based fund manager, told staff this week that they could again work from home until early January, according to a person familiar with the situation. Ashmore declined to comment.

Ministers had been urging people to return to their workplaces, in part to support local businesses in urban centres.

One business leader described the rapid turn of policymaking and lack of a government warning as “deeply unhelpful” and “really disruptive” to industries that were still coming to terms with the last round of restrictions.

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