Businesspeople and workers in England’s hospitality sector have welcomed news the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus will not force the closure of venues at the busiest time of the year.
Many had feared a partial post-Christmas lockdown, with venues ordered to close around New Year’s Eve in a bid to slow the spread of the highly transmissible variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.
But, with research from South Africa-where the strain was first identified-suggesting the variant may cause a less severe illness than other strains, and with hospital admissions up to 70 percent less likely, London said it would not order imminent closures in England.
The devolved United Kingdom governments of Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland make their own decisions and have each imposed restrictions on entertainment venues around New Year’s Eve.
After London said events in England could go ahead, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, the nation’s largest trade association for bars, coffee shops, caterers, hotels, nightclubs, and other venues, said the decision would buy enterprises time.
“This will give a real lifeline for many who have struggled with the loss of trade in the run-up to Christmas and the loss of new year on top of that would have been devastating,” the BBC quoted her as saying.
The Night Time Industries Association, which mainly represents nightclubs, said it was “amazing news”.
The UK government has, however, said it will look at the situation again in January and could impose curbs if they become necessary.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Radio 4’s Today program on Tuesday the government will act “if we do see a big increase in hospital admissions”.
“There is early encouragement from what we know in South Africa, that you have fewer hospitalizations and that the number of days that they stay in hospital, if they do go into hospital, is also lower than in previous variants … At the moment, we don’t think that the evidence supports any more interventions beyond what we have done.”
The news came as the UK recorded 113,628 COVID-19 cases on Christmas Day, 108,893 on Boxing Day, and 98,515 on Dec 27, suggesting the number of new daily cases could have plateaued.
NHS England, however, said 1,281 people were admitted to hospital on Christmas Day with COVID-19, which was the most since Feb 16.
While the government has taken an optimistic approach in not ordering another lockdown, The Guardian newspaper noted Health Secretary Sajid Javid was urging people to be cautious at New Year’s Eve celebrations, and to party outdoors if possible.
Meanwhile, many other nations in Europe have taken a less optimistic stance.
While also refusing to introduce a New Year’s Eve curfew, France has said people must work from home from Jan 3, and that public indoor gatherings must not exceed 2,000 people.
The country has already ordered the closure of nightclubs and told cafes and bars to offer only table service.
Germany has limited the size of gatherings and told cinemas, gyms, nightclubs, and swimming pools to close. Greece has also ordered bars and restaurants to close by midnight, and for groups to be limited to six people from Jan 3, the Reuters news agency reported.
Finland brought in restrictions on opening hours for bars and restaurants on Tuesday. And Denmark has closed cultural attractions and limited the opening hours of bars and restaurants.