The Greater Manchester mayor has called for an urgent review of the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants in England, warning that it is doing more harm than good and has created an “incentive” for people to gather in homes and streets.
Andy Burnham suggested a 9pm curfew on the sale of alcohol in shops and supermarkets should be put in place alongside the current restriction, to prevent a rush to buy supplies for gatherings after pubs close.
“My gut feeling is that this curfew is doing more harm than good,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, adding that over the weekend he “received reports that the supermarkets were absolutely packed out to the rafters”.
He said: “What we’re told is the main place where the virus is spread is in gatherings in the home. I think the government needs to give some urgent consideration to this because if it is doing more harm than good and actually also damaging businesses that have spent a lot of money getting themselves ready to reopen, then I think they shouldn’t just plough on with it.”
The Liverpool mayor, Joe Anderson, said at the weekend that the curfew – which came into force in England and Wales on Thursday – was “making things more dangerous”, after large crowds gathered in the city when venues turned revellers out on Saturday night.
Responding to Burnham’s suggestion of further restrictions to prevent gatherings, the junior health minister Helen Whately said the government was keeping “an open mind”, and she did not rule out speculation that strict new measures may come into force in northern England and London in response to rising virus rates.
“There’s quite a lot of coverage in the papers about will there be further restrictions. I mean clearly we don’t want to do that, but I wouldn’t rule it out because you do need to get the Covid rates under control,” she told the Today programme.
She said it was “clearly early days” in terms of seeing how the curfew would affect coronavirus transmission rates. “For anyone coming out of a pub or restaurant at 10 o’clock and thinking what to do next and tempted by the idea of going on and partying, I’d say think of the consequences of your actions,” Whately said.
The scientific advice behind the decision to impose a 10pm curfew on pubs, bars and restaurants remains unclear. Last week a member of the government’s Sage advisory group, Prof John Edmunds, told Today that the measure was “fairly trivial” and would have a “very small impact on the epidemic”, while his fellow Sage member Prof Graham Medley said he had not heard it discussed at meetings prior to the announcement on Tuesday.
However, the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said on Sunday that the government had taken heed of scientific advice, including from the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance. “The risk here is as people have more to drink later on in the evening, the amount of social distancing reduces. People get friendlier with each other and there’s a greater risk of spread,” he said on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show.
Weekly data from Public Health England showed just 22 out of 772 new cases in the week up to 20 September were caused by the hospitality industry. But Whately said the government’s aim was to “break the chains of transmission”.
She told Sky News that the government had been looking closely at contact-tracing activities in areas with large outbreaks. “One of the things you can see is some of the contacts have been in hospitality,” said Whately.
Burnham also urged the government to simplify and clarify Covid-19 restrictions, which differ in regions where local lockdowns are in force, in order to increase levels of compliance.
“There is currently a dissonance between the national and the local requirements,” he said. “For instance, the rule of six does not apply in the same way in areas of local restrictions, where we’re required not to meet in the home and advised not to meet in public venues, and that is understandably causing confusion amongst the public.”