The three tier system will return from next Wednesday, bringing yet another set of rules we need to get our heads around.
The government has committed to stricter tiers this time around to curb the spread of the virus, but one restriction seems to have relaxed: the pub curfew.
In September, pubs, restaurants and other entertainment venues were forced to close between 10pm and 5am in England. That meant an earlier last orders.
Now, pubs have been instructed to serve ‘last orders’ at 10pm, before closing their doors at 11pm. So, what’s going on with the time change and will it actually make a difference?
A government document states that the new system “allows customers to depart gradually and provides greater flexibility”.
This follows post-curfew photos back in September, when crowds were seen spilling out onto the street after closing time, then piling onto public transport.
It led to some scientists claiming the curfew was doing “more harm than good”.
A report by Sage in September said there was “low confidence” this intervention would actually make a difference to the virus, perhaps signalling the final nail in the coffin for the 10pm curfew.
But Gabriel Scally, visiting professor of Public Health at the University of Bristol and a member of Sage, is concerned that an 11pm closing time could actually make matters worse.
“If it does make a difference, it is, in my view, likely to increase transmission,” he tells HuffPost UK. “An extra hour in an enclosed space with the presence of alcohol is increasing exposure to the virus and therefore transmission is likely to increase.”
Dr Clare Wenham, assistant professor of Global Health Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), previously suggested the focus on closing times had always been political, rather than evidence-based.
“I imagine it’s a performative effect, where the government want to demonstrate that they are doing something – but don’t want to shut pubs as the economic impact would be significant for the hospitality industry,” she told HuffPost UK. “Plus it could be politically bad to shut pubs, as everyone loves them.”
It remains to be seen what impact the new 11pm closing time will have on transmissions of the virus, but the pub industry says it’s not enough to save struggling businesses.
Unlike the old tier system, pubs in tier 2 can now only serve alcohol “with a substantial meal” (this was previously a tier 3 rule). Meanwhile in tier 3, pubs will only be permitted to open for takeaways.
“Whilst the review of curfew is overdue, the relaxation of the 10pm curfew is meaningless if most pubs are rendered unviable or forced to close under tiers two and three,” The British Beer and Pub Association, the leading trade association representing brewers and pubs, said in a statement.
“If these tighter tier restrictions are forced upon us, far more government financial support will be needed to avoid the resulting carnage. In tier two alone, the new restrictions will mean 90% of pubs will be unviable and will only be able to operate at a loss. In tier three, no pub is viable if restricted to takeaway only. This will also mean our brewing businesses will be hugely damaged too.”