Labour’s has slammed reports that pubs could reopen with an alcohol ban in April as “ridiculous speculation”, describing the rumoured plans as “unviable”.
With the prime minister due to set out his road map for reopening society later this month, the Sun reported that ministers are preparing to allow pubs to serve takeaway pints in April before fully reopening in May without a curfew.
Meanwhile, the Telegraph said the prospect of dry pubs was being discussed as an option to allow bars to open their doors in April but government sources were dismissive about the idea, asking what the “point” of a pub without alcohol would be.
Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow minister for business and consumers, said: “These half measures would be deeply damaging for pubs and hospitality.
“Rather than forcing them to open but not sell alcohol, the government should protect jobs and businesses by making the furlough scheme smart and giving businesses access to the emergency support they need – keeping it in place until necessary measures are lifted.
“Ideas like this could see Covid cases rise and business thrown under the bus needlessly. The vaccine gives us a way out – the last thing businesses need now is ridiculous speculation about reopening under unviable terms.”
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin also criticised the reports, saying: “Opening pubs without selling alcohol is not ‘reopening’ pubs at all.”
Boris Johnson on Friday said it was “early days” to be considering releasing restrictions as some Conservative MPs called for schools in England to return before the March 8 target date and for all measures to be dumped by May when all over-50s and the clinically vulnerable are expected to have been vaccinated.
The pace of the vaccine rollout, with almost 11 million people given their first dose jab, has brought hope that restrictions could begin to be scrapped, with some experts predicting that people could see friends and family as soon as March and newspapers reporting that shops could open in April, followed by pubs in May.
Covid cases are continuing to fall across most parts of the UK, with just 5% of local authority areas seeing an increase in rates according to the most recent figures published on Friday.
In a further sign that the current restrictions are working, the reproduction number, or R value, of coronavirus transmission across the UK fell to between 0.7 and 1 – down from between 0.7 and 1.1 last week.
It has been suggested that, with falling case numbers, lockdown easing could pave the way for outdoor team and individual sports to resume, as well as outdoor gatherings, within weeks of schools returning in March.
The calls for classrooms to open after the half-term break come as the devolved administrations in Wales and Scotland both announced that some primary schools year groups will return by February 22.
The Times reported that non-essential shops were being pencilled in for reopening in April by Downing Street, with the prospect of fans being in stadiums in time for the European championships in June.
But while rates are beginning to fall the NHS is continuing to struggle through the crisis, with one senior medic warning on Saturday that hospitals are “still in the thick” of coronavirus infections.
Anthony Gordon, professor of critical care medicine at Imperial College London, said intensive care units were still “full to the rafters” and the public would have to wait longer for “relief”.
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Saturday that the nation needed to have a “plan B” to continue to tackle the threat of new variants if the vaccine programme was to continue being a success and to allow society to return to normal.
The Health Committee chairman pointed out that vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi had said there were 4,000 different mutations around the world, and it may well be that one of those is immune to the vaccines.
As of Friday, a further 1,014 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 and there were another 19,114 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK.