Why is 10pm the magic time for a pub curfew?

Move supported by some scientists, but described as ‘another crushing blow’ for UK hospitality industry

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 22 September 2020 14:15 BST
Boris Johnson lists new coronavirus restrictions

Just two and a half months after pubs and restaurants began to reopen as the national lockdown measures were relaxed, new restrictions are to come into force as the rate of infection from Covid-19 has increased in the UK.

The prime minister has announced a new 10pm closing time for pubs, bars and restaurants in England, in a move that has angered the hospitality industry, which has already taken a huge hit from the pandemic.

The government has also dropped its efforts to get people “back to work” in offices, with new guidance again telling people to work from home if they can.

The clampdown on socialising comes after the government's chief scientific and medical advisers painted a grim picture of how there could be 50,000 cases a day by mid-October with a daily death toll of 200 or more by mid-November if the current growth in the rate of infection is not halted.

But will closing at 10pm make a real difference, and how was that particular time selected?

The government is yet to detail the exact reasoning behind the decision, however, similar 10pm closures have been enforced in local lockdowns in other parts of the country, which have been one measure among others deemed successful in reducing rates of infection.

Asked what impact the 10pm closing time would have, Michael Gove said on BBC Radio 4 's Today programme this morning the government was aiming to strike “a balance”, which “takes account of human character”.

“The 10pm closing time is not the only measure the prime minister will be announcing later, it’s part of a package of measures, but the evidence is that social mixing can encourage the spread of the virus,” he said.

“The increase in the spread of the virus will, unchecked, lead to a greater level of hospitalisation and tragically a greater level of deaths.”

Mr Gove also confirmed people would be able, as a group of six, to visit the pub and then when it shuts, to go as a group and carry on drinking back at someone’s house.

“It is the case that with the rule of six you can have six people in a social gathering, yes, but the steps we are taking here reflect some of the evidence that’s been gathered from those parts of the country where these restrictions have already been put in place in order to ensure that we restrict social mixing.”

He also said two couples going out for dinner together was not an unnecessary link between households, “because one of the points we made clear was that table service in restaurants can be entirely appropriate”.

“The restrictions we are putting in place make it clear that there are restrictions which all of us should seek to be putting in place, but overall, when it comes to unnecessary or additional social contact, a balance has to be struck."

He added: “Common sense dictates … there are types of social events which would be excessive and risky, but there are other types of social contact which we can appropriately support and allow, and the balance that we strike is one which is informed by scientific evidence, but also takes account of human character.

“Some people will argue what we are doing is too restrictive, others will say it is too permissive, but we need to strike an appropriate balance at every point.”

Mr Gove also said the government was aiming to support those in the hospitality industry “wherever possible”.

“This is a step which nobody would want to take, but it is proportionate and balanced.”

Dr Cheryl Walter, a virologist at the University of Hull told The Independent the new restrictions could be an effective method of limiting infections, and that the 10pm rules “make sense”.

She said: “Pubs can present a mixture of increased risks for contracting Covid-19. These include not having to wear a mask, potentially becoming a bit more relaxed and forgetting the social distancing and hand hygiene guidelines, and finally being in an enclosed space where room limits might not be enforced.

“I do think this is a good plan and agree the measures need to be balanced with keeping the economy going.”

She also suggested that with a rising rate of infection, a so-called “circuit breaker” national lockdown of 3 weeks should be “seriously considered in the next week or so”.

Dr Shaun Fitzgerald FREng, a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge, told The Independent: “People are understandably asking what difference closing at 10pm makes. Well, as Professor Whitty said yesterday, the solution to this crisis is a collective effort. It is about what we can all do, and notably what we can do to help protect others.

“Closing hospitality at 10pm will likely have some benefit. However, importantly it is a clear sign that things are likely to change unless we can collectively limit our social contacts and heed the ‘hands, face, space and open a window’ message.”

But Dr Stephen Griffin, associate Professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said the government’s messaging is “confused”.

He said: “The move to limit service in hospitality venues to table service is a sensible precaution as this will limit interactions between households at these establishments. I am less convinced that the 10pm curfew will be effective as it runs the risk of compressing activity and having people leave at a single time in larger numbers. Moreover, Mr Gove intimated on the news this morning that people are welcome to extend their night at friends’ houses.

“Again, it seems that the messaging surrounding this sort of restriction is confused and the rationale for implementing it has not been made clear. The concern is that an unfavourable public response to such measures will erode compliance on the fundamental issues of maintaining space and ventilation, wearing face coverings indoors and in crowded areas, and maintaining good hand hygiene. The UK population must be brought together to act in unison if we are to avoid an incredibly difficult and disruptive winter as [Covid-19] cases rise again.”

Boris Johnson reportedly wanted to shut down the entire hospitality sector after health secretary Matt Hancock and the government's scientists began pushing hard for more draconian measures, The Times reports.

Advisers on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) were reportedly pushing for temporary closures of pubs and restaurants, the paper said. Sage’s modelling committee said a simulation of moderate restrictions was not possible. Imposing 10pm closing times on pubs would simply cram drinkers in tighter during shorter opening hours, they said.

However, the prime minister reportedly changed his mind, and a new balance was sought after the chancellor Rishi Sunak, home secretary Priti Patel and business secretary Alok Sharma all warned about the potential impact on the economy.

According to an anonymous “senior government source” quoted by The Daily Mail, “the aim is to cause maximum damage to the R (infection rate) and minimal damage to the economy.”

They added: “Unless we act now, there will be greater economic damage later on.”

The hospitality industry has warned the 10pm closures could take a heavy toll on many businesses.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, described the new restrictions as “another crushing blow” for the industry.

“It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when government data shows that just 5 per cent of infections out of the home are related to hospitality,” she said.

Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night-Time Industries Association, warned the measures could trigger “a surge of unregulated events and house parties which are the real hot-beds of infection, attended by frustrated young people denied access to safe and legitimate night-time hospitality venues”.

And following the local lockdowns in the north of England last week, which also implemented the 10pm rule, the Campaign for Real Ale said: “Ministers should now provide evidence that curfews and restrictions on who you can go to the pub with will be effective in reducing transmission of Covid-19, as well as emphasising that it’s still safe to go to the pub with your own household if you follow the rules. Otherwise, we could see a huge financial impact on viable pubs who are already operating under much tighter restrictions than other businesses, with no positive effect on controlling the virus.

“The government should also introduce a new financial support package and extend the furlough scheme for affected pubs to help them cope with reduced trade that will come as a result of these restrictions. This is the only way to avoid permanent pub closures and further job losses.”

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “No-one underestimates the challenges the new measures will pose to many individuals and businesses.

“We know this won't be easy, but we must take further action to control the resurgence in cases of the virus and protect the NHS.”

Additional reporting by PA

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