Coronavirus (COVID-19): What has changed
In the wake of the recent increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 across the UK, the Prime Minister has announced a series of new restrictions to try to reduce or halt the spread of the virus.
Stopping significantly short of the predicted second lockdown, the new measures target sectors and activities which are believed to have contributed to the rise in cases. These measures will probably last for at least six months and, should they prove inadequate, may be replaced by more wide-ranging and drastic restrictions.
The changes, which apply to England only, will be as follows:
Return to Work
In a volte-face to the recent messaging from government regarding a return to the workplace, they are now encouraging people to work from home wherever possible but if they cannot do so, they can continue to work in a “COVID-secure” environment.
The hospitality industry will see a number of new restrictions: from Thursday 24th September, closing time for pubs, bars and restaurants will be 10pm, with the exception being venues providing a takeaway option, who will only be able to offer deliveries after that time, not collection.
These establishments must also offer table service only. Face masks will now be compulsory for bar and waiting staff, and customers who are not seated in a restaurant or pub. The definition of ‘non-seated’ will apply to customers who are walking to their table or visiting the toilet. In short, masks should only be removed when eating or drinking and seated at a table.
Retail and transport
Other people who are covered by the new rules on wearing masks are shop workers and taxi drivers, as well as passengers in taxis.
For social events, the limit on guest numbers has been reduced from 30 to 15 for weddings and receptions, but it remains at 30 for funerals. This change comes into force from 28th September.
Regarding sports and leisure, the rule of six now applies to indoor sports, while the plans that had been considered for a return of spectators to sporting events, due to begin on 1st October have now been paused, pending further developments in the spread of the virus.
COVID-secure guidelines for businesses in retail, leisure and other sectors will also become legally enforceable.
Shops, restaurants and other hospitality businesses could face fines of up to £10,000 or even closure if they don’t comply with the rules on maximum group sizes, track and trace and the wearing of masks.
The fine for a first offence of not wearing a mask or complying with the rule of six will increase from £100 to £200.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The devolved governments of the UK will be bringing in their own rules in reaction to the developments in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Scottish government has already announced a ban on people from different households mixing indoors.
Advice to businesses
The government clearly wishes to avoid restrictions on households mixing at this time and has decided to concentrate its efforts on the hospitality sector in particular. There have been concerns about some pubs and bars not enforcing social distancing and other control measures.
It is likely to be several days yet before the statutory instrument which gives legal effect to these powers comes into force and official guidance may not be published until after that. However, the government has made clear that there will be increased enforcement activity particularly in relation to the hospitality sector and the difference between the penalties faced by business and those faced by the public indicates that the weight of enforcement will be in relation to business.
Pubs, bars and restaurants which break the law may face regulatory action in relation to their premises licences as well as fixed penalties.
The licensed trade will also face increased staff costs due to the requirement to introduce table service but the changes will not result in any increase in revenue.
The requirement for customers to wear face coverings other than when eating or drinking at their table may result in conflict between staff and reluctant customers.
All in all, this is not good news for the sector but at least licensed businesses can remain open for the time being.
rradar will continue to monitor the situation to keep our advice current and make sure that we can offer the guidance you need to ensure your business remains compliant during this difficult time.
For further information you can visit the Government website: click here.
Jeff Swales, Solicitor at rradar