A move to Plan B Covid-19 restrictions has been announced by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leaving business leaders in hospitality and retail worried about the impact and calling for the return of government support.
From December 10 face masks will become compulsory in most public indoor venues, other than hospitality. From December 13, guidance on working from home where possible will come in.
The latter decision is seen as blow for central London at a time when footfall had been improving after a tough period for businesses that saw the number of workers and shoppers plunge in the City and West End.
Helen Brocklebank, chief executive of luxury goods trade association Walpole, said it goes without saying “that public safety is of primary importance, and that has to be the focus”.
However, she told the Evening Standard: “The new working from home rules will mean that there will be fewer people out and about in stores, bars and restaurants. This will dampen our economies’ recovery.”
Brocklebank added that hotel members have already experienced multiple cancellations for corporate parties and larger tables in restaurants in the run up to Christmas since Omicron hit the headlines.
Meanwhile, the organisation is “very concerned” about the restrictions getting in the way of the recent retail bounce back.
Brocklebank said: “It’s crucial that the Government finely balances the length of time that these new restrictions remain in place, with public safety and the impact on our economy – particularly if the data shows the vaccines hold their own against the new variant and if the data shows that hospital admissions do not rise as infections increase.”
Ros Morgan, chief executive of the Heart of London Business Alliance, which represents over 600 businesses in the West End, said: “Reintroducing restrictions, especially working from home will cost businesses immensely, particularly in the hospitality and retail sectors.”
The boss said: “If Government is heading down this path it will need to also provide support for the businesses affected, given furlough and previous support measures no longer exist.”
The British Property Federation’s Melanie Leech said: “Public health is paramount. However those who have invested millions of pounds in ensuring that offices are safe environments will be frustrated at the announcement given the undoubted mental health and wider productivity benefits of work colleagues being able to meet together, and the importance of office workers to town centre economies and businesses across the country.”
Leech said: “I hope the Government will commit to an early risk-assessed review of the guidance in the New Year as the public health data continues to build in relation to the Omicron variant.”
But Scott Parsons, chief operating officer UK at the firm behind London’s Westfield centres, said: “We expect to see people still wanting to come out to do their Christmas shopping, enjoy a festive lunch or health and beauty services at our centres.”
Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield’s Parsons added said: “We’ve had mandatory mask wearing in place since late November and given the sheer scale of our centres, with their wide malls and abundance of outdoor areas, our guests can enjoy a safe, festive and fun shopping experience.”