Covid: business leaders call for further support for pubs and restaurants amid Omicron variant

The Treasury recently announced grants of up to £6,000 for businesses affected by a drop in trade

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Business leaders have called for further support for the hospitality sector due to concerns that the new Omicron Covid variant led to a drop-off in trade in the run-up to Christmas.

Although the sector has welcomed Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s announcement there will be no new Covid restrictions in England before the new year, British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness McGregor-Smith warned it would not make up for the business lost before Christmas.

Many people chose to stay away from pubs and restaurants in the run-up to Christmas due to concerns over Omicron, in what should have been the busiest time of the year.

Lady McGregor-Smith said that although the Treasury has announced grants of up to £6,000 for businesses affected, some were losing more than that each day.

She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “In January, February, March we have increasing labour costs and increasing energy costs, among many other costs. The list goes on for businesses, particularly in hospitality.

“I am delighted to see that we are protecting New Year’s Eve, but it just won’t go far enough.”

Lady McGregor-Smith has urged the Government to extend the business rates relief and the emergency rate of VAT beyond the end of March, as well as bringing back a “focused” furlough support scheme.

She said that businesses in the sector also needed flexibility over the repayment of loans which they had taken out to support them through the pandemic.

“Many, many have got more debt than they ever had before,” she said.

“They are now in a position where they are going to have to pay that back and I think the Treasury needs to look very carefully at the repayment schemes for many loans across the UK.”

Andy Wood, the chief executive of Adnams brewery, also called for more support, as he said there had been a 50% drop in visitors to pubs and hotels after the chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, urged people to be cautious about socialising due to concerns over the Omicron variant.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “More than half of Christmas has been lost. This is a sector that has the economic equivalent of long Covid.

“There is going to need to be support for the sector through the dark months of January, February and March.”

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