James TweedieAll materialsWrite to the authorPM Boris Johnson’s Conservative government raised fears over the Omicron variant just weeks before Christmas — then stepped back from ordering a new lockdown as regional administrations rushed to close nightclubs and limit numbers in pubs, cafes and restaurants.Nightlife businesses in Scotland and Wales have complained that their English competitors have an unfair advantage this New Year’s Eve thanks to regional COVID-19 lockdowns.Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced on Monday that no further rules would be slapped on January 31 revellers in England as the new Omicron variant of the virus proved less dangerous than feared.”We won’t be taking any further measures,” Javid said, but cautioned: “of course people should remain and cautious as we approach New Year’s celebrations.”
But opposition-run devolved and city-level governments have tightened the screws further on the hospitality sector, beyond Johnson’s reintroduction of face masks and requiring new ‘vaccine passports’ — or evidence of a negative COVID test — for venues holding more than 500 people.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland’s Paul Givan have ordered nightclubs closed and reinstituted restrictions on drinking in pubs — including social distancing, table service only and the ‘Rule of Six’ limiting how many people can meet up and mingle.Edinburgh’s annual three days of Hogmanay street events have been cancelled, while Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called off the midnight fireworks display on the Thames.Those decisions have prompted some in Scotland and Wales to plan New Year’s Eve jaunts across the borders to party the night away in English cities like Newcastle and Bristol.Donald McLeod, owner of Glasgow nightclubs The Garage and The Cathouse Scottish compared the Scottish National Party devolved government to Dr Seuss’ Christmas-stealing villain The Grinch. He told Talk Radio the new lockdown had “slaughtered” him and fellow club owners.
Ruling Conservative Party MP Fay Jones, whose Brecon and Radnorshire seat in the Welsh Marches neighbours England, demanded evidence to back up Labour First Minister Drakeford’s decision.
Welsh political commentator Richard Taylor said even lifelong Labour voters were “fed up” with Drakeford’s killjoy rules that were hitting pubs hard.
Omicron COVID StrainFrom Pandemic Plague to Seasonal Sniffle: How Viruses Mutate Into Milder Strains to SurviveYesterday, 18:42 GMTHospitality sector trade associations also lamented the devolved governments’ choices.
“We can see already the impact hospitality restrictions are having in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which are devastating their level of revenue and ability to trade,” UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls told Sky News “It’s very welcome that in England at least we have that ability to continue to trade.””This is the last big weekend that our businesses have before we go into those quieter periods in January and February where they make a loss, even in a good year,” she added. “The trading levels in the devolved administrations are down 70, sometimes 80 per cent in city centres and for those businesses like nightclubs that are closed, they are back to earning no money at all,” Nicholls said. “In England we’re still seeing supressed levels of trading but there’s about 40 to 50 per cent of normal trade.”The Labour Party voted with the government in Parliament on December 15 for new restrictions in response to the more-transmissible Omicron variant. Some opposition MPs demanded even harsher measures to control the new wave of infections, but cabinet members reportedly blocked plans for a pre-Christmas
Daily coronavirus cases in the UK hit a record high of over 129,000 on Tuesday, but deaths of those tested positive for the virus up to four weeks beforehand remained steady at around 100 per day. British scientists have conceded that South African medics were right in their opinion that the Omicron variant causes only mild illness in the great majority of patients.Almost 33 million people — well over half the adult population — have heeded the government’s urging to have third booster jabs of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, both of which cost several times as much as the home-grown AstraZeneca ‘Oxford’ jab.