The biggest easing of restrictions in the third national lockdown which England has faced to halt the spread of coronavirus will take place today, giving hope to millions of customers that the Government’s roadmap to recovery from the pandemic is gathering pace.
Non-essential retail stores, campsites and holiday lets as well as pub beer gardens, hairdressers and libraries are among the elements of society which are being allowed to re-open.
However, leading figures within the hospitality and retail sectors have stressed that businesses require clarity and assurances from the Government that the nation will not be plunged back into draconian measures in the future.
Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive, James Mason, told The Yorkshire Post that the re-opening of campsites and self-contained holiday lets from today will provide the first foundations for the crisis-hit tourism industry to begin its recovery.
But he added: “No business wants to endure what we have in the past year, where the economy has continually been stopped and then started again.
“Everyone is aware that nothing can be certain as to what will happen with coronavirus, that has become perfectly apparent during the past year, and I understand that the Government will need to adapt if there is another wave of cases.
“But no-one wants to see yet another lockdown, as this will prove to be too much for many businesses.”
Latest figures from Welcome to Yorkshire have shown that the tourism sector in the region was worth £9bn and supported almost 225,000 jobs in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
However, UKHospitality, a trade organisation which represents more than 700 companies operating about 70,000 venues including pubs, restaurants and hotels, has warned of the devastating impact that coronavirus has had on the nation’s hospitality sector.
UKHospitality’s latest research has shown that the hospitality sector had lost £86bn in revenue by the end of last month – down 68 per cent - due to Covid-19.
It is also estimated that there are as many as 600,000 fewer jobs in the sector, despite the financial support provided by the Government’s furlough scheme.
Tony Sophoclides, the strategic affairs director at UKHospitality, has called for an extension to the business rates holiday from three to six months, and also for the reduced rate of VAT for the hospitality sector to be made permanent from April next year.
He said: “The hospitality sector has been particularly badly hit, but it remains vital to the national economy - and especially regions such as Yorkshire.
“The Government has to realise that repeated lockdowns cannot be viable in the long-term.”
A record number of shops closed in the first half of last year with 11,120 chain store outlets shutting between January and June, according to research by the Local Data Company and the accountancy firm, PwC. York was the worst affected area nationally, with a net loss of 55 outlets.
North Yorkshire’s development manager for the Federation of Small Business, Carolyn Frank, warned another lockdown would prove too damaging for many retail businesses.
She said: “It’s just not sustainable to keep having these restrictions and people want to get back trading and working. It’s really important and for mental health as well.
"We’re seeing a real pressure on business owners because they’re trying to juggle their whole family lives, their business lives, their staff’s issues and it’s really put a huge toll financially and mentally on people.”
The Government has stressed it will ensure the nation can live with the virus in the longer-term without imposing restrictions which bear “heavy economic, social and health costs”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has maintained that progress to ease the current restrictions must be “cautious but irreversible” to prevent another lockdown having to be imposed.