As the Omicron variant sweeps the UK, new restrictions to help slow the spread could be the final nail in the coffin for hospitality businesses. Many small retail, food, and hospitality businesses across the country were relying on the festive period to prop up their profits after a disastrous year of lockdowns and restrictions prevented them from trading at full capacity.
The Plan B rules are not as strict as they have been in the past, but they are still a big blow to restaurants, nightclubs, and large-scale indoor venues, including stadiums. The general advice is to wear masks on public transport and in public spaces like cinemas or shops, work from home when possible, and all venues will now need to see proof of full vaccination (vaccine passport) or evidence of a negative lateral flow test before they allow people to enter. The government is ramping up the booster program to curb the impact of Omicron, but the new variant has put a halt to the Christmas activities that would have pulled businesses through to the new year.
While Johnson encouraged people to still host and attend their Christmas parties but work from home, the mix messaging has resulted in people playing it safe and cancelling the parties, dinners, and corporate events we usually see organised throughout December. The speed of the Omicron spread and the uncertainty around how much the original two vaccines protect against it have the public concerned and rather than risk having to isolate from loved ones over Christmas, many are forgoing business events that would have injected some much-needed revenue into small, local businesses.
Business owners have begun calling for the government to support the businesses that will inevitably be impacted by the new restrictions at such a crucial time of year. British Chambers of Commerce director, Shevaun Haviland, has requested the government consider reducing the VAT rate for hospitality and tourism businesses, and provide tax reliefs for retail and other sectors to help offset the blow the new restrictions could deal businesses already in a precarious position. As of Monday 13th, there does not seem to be any plan to introduce additional funding or financial support for affected businesses. After a promising return to normality during the summer months and with the widespread completion of the initial vaccination program, the end of the year is looking to be bleak for hospitality and retail sectors.