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Business leaders fear they will miss out on billions from Christmas shopping because of Covid curbs

Businesses warned Boris Johnson last night that the ‘chilling effect’ of Covid restrictions will cost the economy ‘billions’ in the run-up to Christmas.

Pubs and restaurants said people were already cancelling their Christmas parties even though there is no requirement to wear masks in hospitality venues.

Meanwhile, airline bosses warned that the updated testing requirements since the emergence of the latest strain was putting the industry’s fragile recovery at risk. Bookings have weakened and fears are rising that carriers could see a wave of cancellations.

And Steve Brine, a former Tory health minister, said the Government’s decision to make all contacts of those testing positive for the Omicron variant self-isolate would have a ‘chilling effect’. He added: ‘There’s everything in the language and the narrative that’s coming out of government right now that is causing Christmas parties to be cancelled.’

It comes as easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said bookings had ‘softened’ since the Omicron strain emerged and the Government brought in costly travel rules that will require passengers to isolate until they have a negative PCR test result regardless of their vaccination status.

Mr Lundgren, writing in the Daily Mail, pointed out airline shares had dropped 13 per cent within hours of the announcement of the change. ‘Ministers must ensure their decisions are backed by data and precautions are kept in proportion to the threat,’ he said.

Pubs and restaurants said people were already cancelling their Christmas parties even though there is no requirement to wear masks in hospitality venues. Pictured: Mia Barraball and customer Tallulah Cody in masks at Headmasters, Kingston-upon-Thames

And Emirates airline president Tim Clark said a hit to the peak December travel season – when millions across the world travel to see friends and family – would cause ‘significant traumas’ for businesses.

Critics have claimed that Mr Johnson’s announcements are an over-reaction, given that only 22 omicron cases have so far been found in England. And early signs are that the variant is a mild form of the virus.

They say the moves are contributing to a renewed climate of fear, hitting consumer confidence – with the hospitality sector especially hit.

Clive Black, retail analyst at Shore Capital, said: ‘This will cost the economy billions. It is a calamity. Christmas parties are off.’

Writing in the Mail, Patrick Dardis, head of Young’s pubs, claimed: ‘Within hours of the country being told that a new variant of Covid had been identified, the phones started ringing in the 300 pubs, restaurants and hotels in the Young’s chain.

‘And it wasn’t good news: the cancellation of Christmas parties, dinner bookings scrapped, weekend events in December delayed until who knows when, mini-breaks binned. This scenario is being repeated up and down the land.’

Critics have claimed that Mr Johnson's announcements are an over-reaction, given that only 22 omicron cases have so far been found in England. Pictured: Maskless commuters in the capital were confronted by Transport for London Staff yesterday

Critics have claimed that Mr Johnson’s announcements are an over-reaction, given that only 22 omicron cases have so far been found in England. Pictured: Maskless commuters in the capital were confronted by Transport for London Staff yesterday

Damian Wawrzyniak, an award-winning chef who runs House of Feasts in Peterborough, told the BBC: ‘We had 20 cancellations over the weekend, mostly for Christmas parties. Hospitality has been waiting for Christmas and if it’s not what we were hoping for, there’s going to be some casualties.’

Meanwhile, Jonathan Neame, boss of Shepherd Neame – Britain’s oldest brewer – said: ‘We should hold our nerve, not panic and remember that most pandemics end with a mutation to a mild form of the disease.’

Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann and Suren Thiru, head of economics at the British Chambers of Commerce, suggested GDP figures for the entire fourth quarter could be badly hit.

They feared of a possible ‘pingdemic’ due to the Government’s updated self-isolation rules and that this could exacerbate current widespread staff shortages.

Millions of workers had to stay at home this summer after being contacted via the NHS app and told they were in contact with someone who had tested positive.

Some 32 Conservative backbenchers yesterday rebelled to oppose the self-isolation regulations, while 19 opposed the face mask rules. Pictured: A woman is spoken to about mask wearing after the new rules came into force

Some 32 Conservative backbenchers yesterday rebelled to oppose the self-isolation regulations, while 19 opposed the face mask rules. Pictured: A woman is spoken to about mask wearing after the new rules came into force

Some 32 Conservative backbenchers yesterday rebelled to oppose the self-isolation regulations, while 19 opposed the face mask rules.

Mr Brine warned against the isolation rules and said: ‘We should think of the effect this is having on confidence, on society and on hospitality. Those in hospitality have put everything into this Christmas in order to survive and to save their year.’

Sir Desmond Swayne, Tory MP for New Forest West, said: ‘We’re now about to have another pingdemic as we approach Christmas, to the huge disadvantage of enterprises across the country.’

Alec Shelbrooke, MP for Elmet and Rothwell, said: ‘I have received several emails from travel companies in my constituency whose potential bookings have dropped off a cliff because of the cost of PCR tests. My honourable friend mentioned a ‘chilling effect’ but it goes deeper than that – there is also a huge impact on business.’


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