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‘Like a missile’ - Pubs, bars and restaurants prepare for hard times as government orders them to close

PUBLISHED: 10:04 21 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:04 21 March 2020

Pubs and bars have been told to close by prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Antony Kelly

Pubs and bars have been told to close by prime minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Antony Kelly

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009

Pubs, restaurants and clubs have been ordered to close their doors as the government ramps up its coronavirus response.

Stefan Gurney from the Norwich Business Improvement District. Photo: Bethany WalesStefan Gurney from the Norwich Business Improvement District. Photo: Bethany Wales

In his daily briefing to the nation, prime minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced more stringent social distancing measures, calling on businesses in the hospitality industry to shut up shop in a bid to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Those on the frontline of the region’s hospitality industry have voiced fears over the announcement, but acknowledged that it was ultimately a decision made with the interest of public health at heart.

It came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Norfolk rose from 11 to 17 in one day, and as the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn confirmed two men had died from the disease.

Stefan Gurney, executive director of Norwich Business Improvement District (BID), said: “Obviously we are living in unprecedented times. We are now going on the message that public health is the number one priority and that will be our first thought – as it should be.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a coronavirus news conference inside 10 Downing Street, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 19, 2020. Coronavirus (Covid-19) has spread to over 177 countries in a matter of weeks, claiming over 8,000 lives and infecting over 230,000. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Leon Neal/PA WirePrime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a coronavirus news conference inside 10 Downing Street, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday March 19, 2020. Coronavirus (Covid-19) has spread to over 177 countries in a matter of weeks, claiming over 8,000 lives and infecting over 230,000. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Leon Neal/PA Wire

“We will all be working hard to support businesses and the wider community.

“The BID has been lobbying the government hard to make sure there are measures to support businesses to make sure they remain viable once this has passed. Hospitality is a very large industry in the city and we will continue look at how we can do things differently to support it.”

The announcement has prompted fears within the pub industry that locals and the brewers who supply them may be unable to survive in years to come.

Richard Dixon, pubs protection manager at the Norwich branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said: “These are certainly worrying times for the industry – pubs and bars rely on people coming in to survive.

The Gull Inn, Loddon Road Credit: James RandleThe Gull Inn, Loddon Road Credit: James Randle

“Unless pubs can somehow find ways of making money to pay their leases I do fear the worse for them – and the same will go for brewers.

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“However, the advice provided by the government has been sound so far and if this does help slow the spread and help the NHS cope then it will be worthwhile. I do worry that we will see lots of pubs closing in the future though.”

Steve Munson, who runs the Gull Inn pub and restaurant in Framingham Pigot, said the situation was “like a missile that has hit the entire hospitality industry”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre), Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left) and Dr Jenny Harries (right) speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19) as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs and restaurants across the country to close tonight as the Government announced unprecedented measures to cover the wages of workers who would otherwise lose their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 20, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: JULIAN SIMMONDS/Daily TelegraphPrime Minister Boris Johnson (centre), Chancellor Rishi Sunak (left) and Dr Jenny Harries (right) speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19) as Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs and restaurants across the country to close tonight as the Government announced unprecedented measures to cover the wages of workers who would otherwise lose their jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 20, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: JULIAN SIMMONDS/Daily Telegraph

He said: “The length of time between now and when we are able to be back open is truly critical – some businesses will make it but inevitably some will not.

“To be honest, I’ve felt for a while that it was inevitable pubs and restaurants would be picked off – however there are still lots of question marks over insurance and the timing, that the government advised to begin with rather than told.

“However the speed of the spread has taken a lot of us by surprise and public safety does have to come first.”

In his address, Mr Johnson said that pubs and restaurants would be allowed to provide takeaway services, with a number being forced to diversify to help them survive.

Steve Munson, owner of The Gull pub Picture: Jamie HoneywoodSteve Munson, owner of The Gull pub Picture: Jamie Honeywood

Meanwhile, the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, used the press conference to unveil a wave of new measures geared at helping support businesses and individuals hit by the economic impact of the outbreak.

These included a “coronavirus retention scheme”, which allows employers to apply for government grants to cover the wagers of staff members they would otherwise be unable to support – something Mr Munson said he would desperately need.

Mr Sunak described the approach as “unprecedented measures of unprecedented times” as he unveiled what he described an “extraordinary financial support package”.

He said: “I am placing no limit on the amount available for this scheme. We said we would stand together with the British people and we meant it.

“Let me speak directly to businesses: I know it’s incredibly difficult out there – we in government are doing everything we can to support you.”

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