UK seeks to boost economy by re-opening pubs, eateries

By Guillermo Ximenis

London, Jul 4 (efe-epa).- Officials in the United Kingdom hope that Saturday’s re-opening of pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers shuttered months ago to contain the spread of coronavirus will ease the economic pain that has accompanied the pandemic.

Trade association UKHospitality estimated that around 60 percent of establishments would open their doors this weekend as part of a process leading to the return of some 960,000 furloughed workers over the course of July.

Nearly 1.6 million people employed in pubs, eateries and hotels could be back at work by Oct. 1, according to the group, though some analysts say that as many as 320,000 jobs in the hospitality sector may have disappeared for good due to the disruption caused by Covid-19.

Dubbed “Super Saturday” by the tabloids, the re-opening was limited to England, which is home to more than 56 million of the UK’s nearly 67 million residents.

Hospitality businesses in Northern Ireland were allowed to re-open Friday, while authorities in Scotland and Wales are planning to wait a while longer before taking that step.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak celebrated the re-opening with a visit to a pub in London, urging Britons to “eat out to help out” by preserving jobs in the hospitality sector.

While the health secretary, Matt Hancock, stressed the importance of adhering to social-distancing guidelines to prevent a resurgence of Covid-19, which has claimed more than 44,000 lives in the UK.

“I’m no killjoy, but the virus can still kill. I don’t want to see bars and pubs have to close again. I love going to the pub and enjoy a pint or two,” he said in comments cited by the Daily Mail.

Ahead of the re-opening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government reduced the required distance between people indoors from 2m to 1m (6ft to 3ft), making it possible for eateries and bars to accommodate larger crowds.

The Conservative administration is recommending that people wear masks when using public transportation, wash their hands frequently and minimize time spent inside closed environments apart from their homes.

The British hospitality industry received good news this week with the announcement that visitors from 59 countries, including Spain, Italy, Greece and Spain, will be exempt from the requirement to self-quarantine for 14 days after entering the UK when the borders re-open next Friday.

That measure should make it easier for the UK – with Europe’s highest coronavirus death toll – to attract foreign travelers during the summer tourism season.

Sunak, the architect of the government’s economic policies, has sought to frame the push to resume activity as vital to ensure that younger people can find employment.

“This is really about social justice,” he has said.

“This is a consumption-driven economy; people used to, three months ago, go out with their friends or family to go and have a meal. Or buy a car, or upgrade their house, or move house,” Sunak told The Times of London.

Authorities have issued directives aimed at reducing the risk of contagion at pubs and restaurants.

Establishments that have music must keep the volume down so patrons don’t need to shout to be heard, as studies have found that people spread more germs while singing or speaking loudly.

Staff are supposed to have “minimum contact” with customers, who cannot stand at the bar. And patrons must provide contact information to management to enable tracing if an outbreak occurs, though people in a group have the option of designating one of their number as the contact person.

“You could end up behind bars if you break the law,” Hancock told the Daily Mail. EFE gx/dr

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