Shutting pubs again to allow schools to reopen risks putting millions out of work, shattering confidence and costing the economy dear, Ministers were warned last night.
A top Government adviser yesterday said the move might be necessary as a ‘trade-off’ to stem a possible rise in coronavirus cases caused by 10 million children returning to the classroom.
Professor Graham Medley, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said most people would prioritise ‘the health and wellbeing of children’ over going to the pub.
Government advisers have warned that stricter lockdown rules may be necessary if the PM wants to reopen schools in September
His comments came amid growing concerns over a possible second wave of coronavirus. But pub bosses hit back, saying a return to closures would be devastating for the industry and households that rely on it for work. It came as:
- Boris Johnson was accused of leaving the wedding industry in the lurch after delaying the resumption of larger receptions;
- There were renewed fears people were ignoring social distancing, with Arsenal fans flouting the rules while celebrating their 2-1 FA Cup win over Chelsea and thousands flocking to Brighton’s beaches;
- Oxford University’s top vaccine scientists warned most of the world’s population could catch coronavirus by 2022;
- Government advisers said the Army should be put on standby in case local lockdowns trigger riots;
- The number of Covid-19 related deaths across the UK rose by 74 yesterday, to 46,193.
Kate Nicholls, of Hospitality UK, which represents pubs, restaurants and hotels, said shutting down ‘large chunks of the economy’ was a short-sighted strategy. ‘We need to be focusing on collective efforts to drive down and control infections,’ she said, adding that the hospitality industry directly employs 3.2 million, with another two million reliant through supply chains. ‘It’s simply too big to just switch off. We would be talking about millions of people unemployed, a major loss of economic activity.’
Her comments came after England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty cautioned the country was ‘near the limit’ on how much social distancing measures could be eased without triggering a dangerous increase in virus levels.
Another Sage member, Prof Calum Semple, said there would probably be a second wave in October and ‘hard decisions will need to be made about what restrictions need to be reintroduced’. He told the BBC: ‘Whether that’s potentially the pubs and the hospitality sector taking a hit in preference to education will be a political decision.’
There are genuine fears that the lack of social distancing could lead to a second spike
But senior Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith said it was a ‘false choice’ to say pubs should close to allow schools to open. The former Tory leader pleaded for Ministers to ensure both are kept open.
He told The Mail on Sunday that impending ‘economic Armageddon’ was a far greater risk than Covid-19. He said: ‘Of course, we must protect the vulnerable. We must protect people with co-morbidities.’ But he added: ‘The rest of us should be back at work by now and schools should be opening. If we don’t get this economy moving, more people will die because the economy collapsed than will ever die of Covid.’