Pubs and hairdressers will not be able to serve customers again for at least another month, the business secretary has confirmed while warning retailers over their conduct ahead of next week’s re-opening of non-essential stores in England.
Alok Sharma said during the daily Downing Street coronavirus briefing that shops found not to be following rules designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 face being issued with enforcement notices.
He told reporters: “I can confirm today that retail outlets which have been required to be closed will be able to open their doors again from Monday 15 June so long as they comply with the COVID-secure guidelines we published on May 25.
“This is the latest step in the careful restarting of our economy and will enable high streets up and down the country to spring back to life.”
However, the minister poured cold water on hopes of a wider reopening for consumer-focused businesses later this month when he confirmed it would be 4 July “at the earliest” before pubs, bars, restaurants and hairdressers could return.
There had been speculation earier in the week that the hospitality sector was set to be handed a lifeline of an earlier-than-planned restart because Boris Johnson was worried about the toll the virus crisis was taking on jobs
The move comes as the Daily Telegraph reported that the two-metre rule has been omitted from draft guidance on reopening pubs and restaurants.
Instead, the Government proposals refer to “wider spacing” between customers and installing safeguarding measures, raising the prospect that officials are preparing to change the rule.
According to the paper, a draft of the guidance seen by Propel, the hospitality industry newsletter, encourages staff to split into shift teams and the “use of radios or telephones or other electronic devices when sending orders from service areas to kitchens”.
However, no specific requirement on the distance required between tables has been stipulated in the document, which instead makes reference to “wider spacing” and the use of screens and barriers where appropriate.
Mr Sharma said: “I know there’s been a lot of speculation about when we might be able to reopen these parts of the economy and I completely understand why we’re all so keen to get them back up and running, and I absolutely share that enthusiasm.
“But we continue to follow the road map which set out our ambition to reopen these sectors from July 4 at the earliest,” he added.
One headache for landlords and owners is the two-metre rule for social distancing which, Mr Sharma said, was being kept under review.
He said he was to lead five new recovery round tables to feed directly into the government’s work on helping the UK economy recover as the government continues financial support for businesses and wages amid the disruption.
The Treasury had earlier confirmed that almost £35bn in loans had been dished out under its three major support schemes.
It was also revealed that the number of workers furloughed under the Job Retention Scheme had hit 8.9 million people – a quarter of the UK workforce.
“We will work shoulder to shoulder with our businesses as we get ready for our economic fightback,” Mr Sharma said.
He also appeared to confirm plans were afoot to make it harder for Chinese state entities to buy up large stakes in UK companies following reports a new takeover law was on the way.
The minister said, in a response to a journalist’s question: “I think it’s important that we protect our critical assets, that is what we do through the Enterprise Act currently.
“Of course we will look to see through the forthcoming bill, when it comes through, how we might improve upon that.”