The Prime Minister made his long-awaited statement to the House of Commons yesterday (23 June 2020) regarding the further easing of restrictions which will allow much of the hospitality sector to reopen in England on 4 July. This includes hotels (and other self-contained accommodation), pubs, restaurants, cinemas and galleries but does not include a number of other premises, including nightclubs and casinos.
The announcement confirms that rules will be relaxed but not abolished altogether. Initial, and in some cases very high level, guidance has been released with more detailed guidance to follow. Key points for the hospitality sector in England to note are:
- One metre plus - Crucially, distancing rules will be relaxed with a “one metre plus” rule being introduced. This means that people should stay two metres apart wherever possible, and where that is not possible, they should remain one metre apart while continuing to reduce the risks of transmission by taking precautions.
- Test and Trace - In order to help NHS Test and Trace respond to any local outbreaks, businesses should collect contact details from customers and visitors and keep a temporary record for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for the business in question. Businesses should assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed. There is no specific method by which these records should be kept, with the guidance noting that many businesses that take bookings already have systems for recording their customers and visitors, including restaurants, hotels and hair salons. The Government has said that it will work with the hospitality sector to make this manageable, and further details are awaited.
- Food and drink – Indoor hospitality will be limited to table-service and, as noted above, guidance encourages minimal staff and customer contact and sets out steps that will usually be needed (see the protecting staff, customers and visitors section below for more on this). People should only visit a restaurant in their household groups (or support bubbles), or with one other household, or with up to five other people outdoors.
People are however still required to socially distance, whether meeting indoors or outdoors. Much of the guidance for pubs, restaurants, bars and takeaway services focuses on social distancing aspects with a large number of objectives and steps outlined. A few of these are:
- Managing the entry of customers, and the number of customers at a venue, so that all indoor customers are seated with appropriate distancing, and those outdoors have appropriate spaced seating or standing room. Managing entry numbers can be done, for example, through reservation systems, social distancing markings, having customers queue at a safe distance for toilets or bringing payment machines to customers, where possible.
- Reducing contact by encouraging technology use (e.g. ordering online, on apps or over the telephone to reduce queues and stagger pick up times) and adjusting service approaches such as assigning a single staff member per table.
- Considering further lowering capacity on the basis that even if it is possible to safely seat a number of people inside a venue, it may not be safe for them all to travel or enter that venue.
- Staggering entry times with other venues and taking steps to avoid queues building up in surrounding areas.
We expect that seating and serving customers from more than one household together and in a safe manner will be a challenge, especially as very specific details as to how this should be achieved are not provided.
- Accommodation – Provided no more than two households stay together, people will be free to stay overnight in self-contained accommodation, including hotels, bed and breakfasts and campsites. Shared sleeping spaces (i.e. dormitory rooms) should not be opened to any groups, except those staying within the rules on social mixing outside of household groups. Any permitted shared facilities must be kept clean, although shared showers and kitchens (but not toilets) should not open, except on campsites, subject to compliance with cleaning and usage guidelines.
Guidance issued today (24 June 2020) notes that hotels and accommodation providers must introduce deep cleaning regimes between guests, which we understand that providers will already be planning for. Additionally, meal services, including breakfasts must be pre-booked and timed.
- Events – Conferences are still not permitted, however places of worship for prayer, services and weddings will be allowed with a maximum of 30 people, subject to social distancing. The initial guidance suggests that other celebrations for “major life events” of up to 30 people are permitted. Hospitality businesses may therefore start holding larger events if they are able to ensure that social distancing can be maintained. The guidance is clear that gatherings of people doing the same activity with each other must be no more than 30 people but further clarification on the types of gatherings that are allowed would be welcomed.
Spa, beauty, sports, leisure and entertainment facilities will continue to be impacted by restrictions.
- Spas will not be able to reopen yet as they are deemed to be “close proximity” venues.
- Sport - Swimming pools will remain closed as will indoor gyms and indoor facilities such as changing rooms and courts. Outdoor gyms can reopen, and the rules around taking exercise and playing outside have been altered: it will be possible for groups of up to two households, or groups of up to six people from different households to exercise or play sport outdoors. Social distancing is still required and people should only play close contact team sports with members of their household. Equipment should be kept to a minimum and cleaned frequently and thoroughly if used by someone else.
- Hairdressers can reopen with appropriate precautions, including the use of visors, but cannot offer services which remain prohibited in regulations (e.g. nail, beauty and tanning services).
- Nail bars remain closed for now, but the Government intends to allow them to reopen as soon as they can, once they are confident that they can operate in a Covid-secure way.
- Entertainment - Nightclubs and casinos remain closed and live performances are not permitted. While it is permitted to play recorded music, interestingly, venues should ensure that steps are taken to avoid people unduly raising their voices to each other, including refraining from playing music or broadcasts that may encourage shouting, communal dancing, group singing or chanting including if played at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult. This rule is very wide and would affect not just venues that play recorded music (most, if not all, restaurants and pubs), but those that also show sporting events. Venues will need to communicate the arrangements to customers and reconfigure indoor entertainment spaces to ensure that customers are seated and not standing.
Other leisure and tourist attractions that can reopen if they can do so safely including playgrounds, soft-play facilities, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades, as well as libraries, social clubs and community centres (subject to no indoor fitness and sport activity taking place). Specific measures include: timed tickets will be introduced for exhibitions, theme parks, galleries and attractions; one way systems, clear floor markings and a queue management system at all attractions; encouragement of cashless payments; and for visitor attractions, regular deep cleaning regimes across their site and with some interactive displays being temporarily closed.
Any close contact activity at amusement arcades and other entertainment centres should only be conducted within a household group/bubble or with one other household/bubble.
The Government has said that they will also work with the arts industry on specific guidance to enable choirs, orchestras and theatres to resume live performances as soon as possible. They can in theory open their doors from 4 July for other purposes.
Protecting staff, customers and visitors
Businesses will be required to take certain steps to protect staff, customers and visitors. Detailed guidances have been issued and those businesses now permitted to re-open on 4 July will be carefully considering this guidance. Risk assessments will be reviewed and revised and the many necessary safety measures requiring implementation will be progressed.
Many in the hospitality industry have already been reporting on the steps taken to ensure premises are going to be, as the HSE now refers to it, ‘COVID secure’. There will be new and enhanced, deep cleaning. For shared areas of premises, this will be particularly important where there are frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, elevator buttons, and within toilet areas. The provision of hand wash facilities or hand sanitiser stations at entry and exit points will also need to be considered.
Hotels, restaurants and pubs will be looking at changes to floor layouts to ensure social distancing; preventing access to certain areas, reconfiguring seating arrangements, putting signage on flooring and creating one-way systems. For so many businesses in this industry, social distancing is the biggest challenge and for some, it may be insurmountable. More commentary on the “one metre plus” rule and how it is expected to operate and be enforced would be welcomed.
While the public are being encouraged to limit social interaction with anyone outside the group they are attending a place with, even if seeing other people they know, it is not yet clear how, in reality, hospitality businesses should police social distancing rules beyond reminding customers and visitors of the relevant rules both in person and by displaying relevant information.
New Industry Standard
It has been confirmed that a new industry standard will be introduced by VisitEngland for hotels, accommodation providers and visitor attractions to reassure the public that businesses are adhering to government guidance. This will act as a marker to visitors that a venue is practising social distancing, maintaining cleaning routines and has undertaken a thorough risk assessment to protect customers when on site.
As noted above, further guidance is awaited and it will be interesting to see the details once it is available. We will provide further updates in due course.
These changes do not apply to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland which hold responsibility for their own lockdown restrictions.