Businesses face fines and tighter restrictions as Covid-19 response intensifies

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tightened restrictions and increased punishments as the Government battles to limit the rising number of coronavirus cases.

The restrictions “may stay in place for six months”, said Johnson, in a statement in the House of Commons.

Yesterday the UK’s Covid alert level was raised back up to 4 and today Johnson said “this is the moment we must act”.

Data is showing that the long-held fear of a second wave in the autumn may be imminent and Johnson’s statement followed a press conference from the Government’s scientific advisors yesterday.

Johnson said: “We always knew that while we might have driven the virus into retreat the prospect of a second wave was real. I’m sorry to say we have reached a perilous turning point.”

Businesses will be subject to fines if they break Covid rules while individuals face greater levels of fines.

He set out a series of measures that he hopes will help reduce the rate of transmission:

– Workers are now being asked to work from home where they can.

– From Thursday, all pubs, bars and restaurants must operate table service only – apart from takeaways – and all must close by 10pm.

– Facemasks must be worn by staff in retail, indoor hospitality and private hire vehicles.

– Covid-secure guidelines will become legal obligations

– The “rule of six” will be tightened and a maximum of 15 people can now attend weddings. 30 people will be allowed at funerals.

– Measures to open up attendance at sports clubs and business conferences will not now go ahead.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Culture Secretary are “urgently working on measures” to assist these sectors. The live events industry is among the worst-affected of all sectors and the coming end of the furlough scheme is expected to unleash a huge number of redundancies.

Johnson said: “I am sorry that this will affect many businesses getting back on their feet.”

The curfew plans have already come under fire from Martin Greenhow, managing director at MOJO which has bars in Leeds and Harrogate.

He said: “With neither evidence to support the assumption that hospitality is driving infection – only 35 cases reported in the sector – and as of yet no sign of the threatened dramatic upturn in deaths, the move to curtail the operational hours of our already crippled industry seems unjust and punitive, not to mention illogical and irrational.

“Are people more infectious after 10pm? Hospitality has slaved to work responsibly within the constraints laid out for us and now we are being thrown aside with scant concern for the impact these measures will have on our businesses and the wider economy.”

Sheffield City Region Mayor, Dan Jarvis, said: “The PM was right to introduce new restrictions to stem the spread of COVID, yet the government still appears flat-footed and without a credible strategy to overcome the pandemic.

“The absence of a functioning test and trace system, along with patchwork support for the economy, is putting people and businesses further in peril.

“If the Government cannot get a grip on this crisis, then they need to put regional leaders in the driving seat and let us get on with the job – giving us the powers and resources to protect lives, jobs and businesses from further harm.”