New restrictions on alcohol sales and pub opening times in Wales in the lead-up to Christmas will devastate the country’s hospitality industry, groups representing businesses and consumers have warned.
It comes after First Minister Mark Drakeford announced that pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will be forced to stop selling alcohol and to shut by 6pm in a new round of coronavirus restrictions that begin on Friday night.
On Monday, the Welsh Labour leader said the new rules were a “matter of deep regret”, but that people meeting in hospitality settings was helping drive a resurgence of cases just three weeks after the country’s firebreak lockdown ended.
Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Government’s press briefing he acknowledged that the new restrictions would be “difficult” as they come at one of the busiest times of the year.
He added: “But it is a simple fact that we continue to face a virus that is moving incredibly quickly across Wales and a virus that will exploit every opportunity when we spend time with one another.”
But organisations including the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), and the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) criticised the decision for threatening the futures of businesses.
Ian Price, CBI Wales director, said: “The First Minister’s announcement is devastating for a Welsh hospitality sector that’s already reeling from a damaging cycle of restrictions.
“Pubs, restaurants and shops that should be buzzing at this time of year now face a hugely uncertain future, with closures and job losses all but guaranteed.
“For those firms that have struggled on, the loss of the all-important festive trading period could very well be the last straw.”
Responding to the news that pubs in Wales will be banned from selling alcohol and forced to close at 6pm, please find the attached comment from CAMRA National Chairman Nik Antona.
— CAMRA (@CAMRA_Official) November 30, 2020
Nik Antona, national chairman of consumer group CAMRA, said: “Restrictions that force hundreds of pubs to close and devastate trade for those able to remain open to serve meals could be the final straw for Welsh pubs and the breweries that supply them.
“There is simply no evidence that a draconian alcohol ban will stop the spread of Covid-19. What is clear is that our pub culture is being used as a convenient scapegoat for the spread of the pandemic.”
James Calder, chief executive of SIBA, said: “The decision to ban the sale of alcohol in hospitality from Friday will be the final blow for small breweries and pubs in Wales who rely on the Christmas trading period for a substantial percentage of their annual income.
“There is no evidence to justify these new targeted restrictions.”
Mr Drakeford told the press briefing there was evidence that people meeting in hospitality settings were not having “glancing contact” with others, such as in a supermarket, but sitting together for a period of time.
This, he said, had contributed to a rise in Wales’ seven-day incidence rate from 187 cases per 100,000 people on Friday to almost 210 cases per 100,000 on Monday.
Mr Drakeford said there had been a rise in new Covid-19 cases particularly among under-25s in 17 of the country’s 22 local authorities.
Scientific and medical advisers believe that unless further restrictions were put in place, the number of people in hospital in Wales with Covid-19 could rise to 2,200 people by January 12.
Modelling suggested another 1,600 people could also lose their lives over the winter period.
Mr Drakeford defended his decision to limit the firebreak to 17 days, saying it had “delivered everything we hoped of it”, but suggested the country may have benefitted with a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions.
— SIBA (@SIBA01) November 30, 2020
For businesses affected by the new regulations, the Welsh Government will “provide the most generous package of financial assistance anywhere in the UK”, Mr Drakeford said.
It will include a £160 million Restrictions Business Fund to enable an estimated 60,000 hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses to access grants of up to £5,000.
A total of £180 million will also be available from the Economic Resilience Fund grant scheme to allow eligible small and medium-sized businesses to receive up to £100,000, and up to £150,000 for larger Welsh-based businesses.
Under the new rules, hospitality businesses will only be allowed to offer a takeaway service after 6pm, but a complete ban on alcohol sales will not extend to supermarkets or off-licences which must already stop selling alcoholic drinks after 10pm.
The new regulations that come into force from 6pm on December 4 will also see cinemas, bowling alleys and other indoor entertainment venues forced to shut their doors.
Other national measures, such as household bubbles, will remain the same after Friday, as well as how many people can meet in public indoors or outdoors.
The restrictions will be formally reviewed by December 17 and then every three weeks.