Pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and arts venues will be forced to close from Boxing Day following the government announcement that Oxfordshire will move into the highest tier 4 from a minute past midnight on Boxing Day.
It is a devastating blow for an industry already on its knees after the lockdowns and tier restrictions imposed this year.
This is another bitter blow to those businesses that have invested significant time and money in their venues to enable them to meet the new social distancing regulations, and who were relying on Christmas and New Year trade.
And while many have been enormously innovative in their efforts to stay afloat and wine and dine us, this news will have a devastating impact.
Anna Munday who has just opened The Oxfordshire Yeoman in Freeland with her partner Paul said: “For the government to make this decision so late in the day is just another devastating blow for pubs and the whole hospitality industry.
“Whilst we had a hunch we were going to be locked down, we still had to do an element of stocking up in case we were open – we can’t open a pub without beer (and food)!
“Had we known we were going to definitely shut for most of the festive season, we could have put different plans into place. But once again we’re being put into a reactive position and really, despite being able to open for takeaways, we don’t think that it’s going to be financially viable for January.
“We’re obviously keen to make sure our locals, loved ones and friends are safe but at the same time, as new landlords, we are sad not to celebrate and welcome everyone this festive season.
“We’re just looking forward to having a belated Christmas in the Spring if we can!”
Baz Butcher who was enjoying a roaring season at The White Hart in Wytham due to his outdoor dining pods and now outdoor/indoor space said:
“Today by 10.30am I’d taken delivery of over £2,500 worth of orders ahead of what was going to be one of our best weeks ever, after six years of trading. At 3.14pm with the Tier 4 announcement, over £25,000 worth of reservations were lost.
“We tackled the last two lockdowns head on and came back fighting, thanks to the huge support of so many customers. And we’ll do the same again. The comments received from our customers in the last hour however mean everything.”
The new rules mean that hospitality venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs, bars and social clubs must close, except those providing food and drink for takeaway which can stay open until 11pm, click-and-collect options, drive-through or delivery. Entertainment venues such as theatres, concert halls, cinemas, museums and galleries will also have to close.
If you live in a Tier 4 area you cannot leave or be outside of the place you are living unless you have a reasonable excuse. You cannot meet other people indoors, including over the Christmas and New Year period, unless you live with them, or they are part of your support bubble. Outdoors, you can only meet one person from another household. These rules will not be relaxed for Christmas for Tier 4 – you cannot form a Christmas bubble in Tier 4.
Thus, for some in the hospitality industry, what happens next is as important as the devastating news today. Kay Chandler of The White Hart in Fyfield says:
“We have put our heart and soul into rising to the challenges of the ever-changing rules and have adapted every time, quite often with very little notice. We constructed a beautiful Orangery for outdoor dining, which has been a huge success and fully booked ever since we reopened at the start of December. So, it is incredibly disappointing, that after so much hard work, we will lose the important revenue of a full restaurant between Christmas and New Year. With only 2 days’ notice (one of which is Christmas Day), orders have already been placed and we will have a huge surplus of beer and food – so a very large donation of food to the Food Bank will be made!
“We are obviously devastated by the latest Tier news but believe it is a necessary decision to help save lives. The big question will be what support we will receive from the Government and how long The Tier 4 restrictions will last.
“However, we will bounce back from this once again. Our customers are amazingly loyal and supportive and have been behind us every step of the way. We will be offering some dine at home events, including a New Year offering, and look forward to welcoming everyone back as soon as we can.”
To reduce social contact, the regulations require some businesses to close and impose restrictions on how some businesses provide goods and services, including those in the hospitality and arts sectors.
Claire Alexander at Killingworth Castle in Wootton said: “With the news that Oxfordshire is moving up tiers on Boxing Day, The Killingworth Castle will be closing until we get the green light again! Rest assured, when allowed, we will be celebrating like it’s 1999 and blowing the bloomin doors off!”
The latest announcement follows a surge in cases of Covid-19 and cases of a new transmissible variant of the virus being detected in the UK. Much of the south east of England will be subject to the new tougher restrictions from Boxing Day. Covid cases have risen by 57 per cent over the past week and hospital admissions have risen to 1,909 a day – the highest figure since mid-April.
At today’s press conference Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I believe that everybody will do what is needed to keep themselves and others safe, especially this Christmas.”
SARAH EDWARDS AND KATHERINE MACALISTER