Hospitality chiefs reacted with fury today as the High Court threw out a legal bid to allow them to welcome customers indoors before May 17 in response to plummeting Covid infections and deaths in the UK.
Lawyers for Punch Taverns founder Hugh Osmond and Greater Manchester night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord had claimed there was no scientific justification for delaying the return of indoor hospitality while letting non-essential shops reopen.
However last night they hit out, saying judges had rejected their claim against Health Secretary Matt Hancock on the grounds that it was 'academic' as there wasn't time for the court to hear it before May 17.
That is the date from which the next stage of easing England's coronavirus restrictions is planned under the Government's road map out of lockdown.
They also complained that a report by the Government's advisory committee, Sage, on the risks of catching Covid from going to a restaurant or pub hadn't been disclosed to them before its publication last Friday.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
'This case is not 'academic' for an industry that is losing £200million every day it remains closed, for the over three million people who work in our industry, or for the tens of thousands of businesses, suppliers, landlords and contractors forced into bankruptcy by Government measures,' Mr Osmond said.
Judges ruled against lawyers for Punch Taverns founder Hugh Osmond (left) and Greater Manchester night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord (right) had claimed there was no scientific justification for delaying the return of indoor hospitality
Pubs and restaurants have been desperate to reopen but have only been able to welcome guests outside so far despite the UK's plunging infection rate
'Our legal action gave them a fighting chance yet once again in 2021, the strong arm of the state has come crushing down on hope and aspiration.' Calling for the reopening of indoor hospitality to be brought forward based on the Sage findings in order to 'capitalise on the NHS's brilliant vaccination rollout', Mr Osmond said it was time to 'follow the data rather than arbitary dates based on outdated models'.
Mr Lord added: 'While this fight has always been an uphill battle, made harder by the Government's delaying tactics and refusal to mediate, we are pleased that the case has shone a light on the hospitality sector and the unfair and unequal guidance within the recovery roadmap.'
He claimed credit for the pairs' legal challenges for the decision not to return to the unpopular 'substantial meal' rule or 10pm curfew following the latest lockdown which he said had 'undoubtedly saved many jobs throughout the industry'.
The undated Sage report published last Friday found there had been 343 Covid outbreaks in hospitality settings since the start of the pandemic.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
It found that hospitality seems to be associated with greater risk of transmission than the leisure and retail sectors, particularly in 'poorly ventilated and crowded indoor settings'.
But it said the proportion of cases across the population as a whole which could be attributed to such settings was 'relatively low', with staff at greater risk than customers.
The High Court judgement has yet to be published.
A UK government spokesperson said: 'Our roadmap sets out a cautious approach to easing restrictions, based on the best scientific evidence available at the time. We published a full range of scientific papers alongside it on 22 February.
'It is widely acknowledged that the risk of transmission outdoors is significantly less than indoors, which is why businesses have already been able to open in some outdoor settings, ahead of indoor hospitality later this month.
'The government has supported the hospitality sector throughout this global pandemic, including our new £5 billion Restart Grant scheme, extending the furlough scheme and the VAT cut, and providing 750,000 businesses in hospitality and other sectors with business rates relief.'
Despite the bad news for hospitality, Britons hoping for summer holidays abroad were given a major boost last night as Boris Johnson confirmed they can resume this month – and Europe said it would throw open its borders in a bid to bring in vaccinated travellers.
For the first time, the Prime Minister confirmed 'some openings up' of international travel would get under way from May 17. A formal announcement will be made later this week.
The European Union revealed plans for dropping its blanket entry ban for non-EU countries with strong vaccine campaigns and low infection rates such as the UK.
A senior EU official singled out Britain's jabs rollout for praise and confirmed the aim is to drop the ban on Britons visiting for leisure travel from June.
The move dovetails with Britain's own plans for green-lighting foreign holidays from May 17, with travellers able to visit a 'green list' of countries without having to quarantine when they return.
The government's 'green list' of countries to which people can travel without having to isolate for 14 days on their return