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Businesses ‘left to rot’ as curfew sees thousands flood streets

PUBLISHED: 08:21 30 September 2020 | UPDATED: 17:52 30 September 2020

Boris Johnson has changed tact again, imposing a national curfew from 10pm to the distress of Norfolk business. Picture: PA/Archant

Boris Johnson has changed tact again, imposing a national curfew from 10pm to the distress of Norfolk business. Picture: PA/Archant

PA/Archant

Businesses in Norwich say they have been “left to rot” by government after it has introduced a series of “moronic” measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Hospitality businesses, their supply chains, and SMEs alike – which make up a huge bulk of East Anglia’s economy – have warned over their future should financial support not be ramped up in reflection of the measures.

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The government’s messaging throughout the pandemic has been mixed – to say the least.

The first major bump came during lockdown with the infamous Barnard Castle incident in which special advisor Dominic Cummings drove hours from his home to “test his eyesight”.

Millions of households were banned from seeing one another and travelling – though Mr Cummings took a trip hours from his home with his family. Research done since has suggested many people stopped taking the government’s message serious at this very moment.

As the economy reopened consumers were encouraged to Eat Out to Help Out, spending millions to get restaurants and cafes back on their feet.

Then Boris Johnson urged people to go back to the office – again to rejuvenate town and city centres.

However such initiatives have been axed and reversed with a 10pm curfew for hospitality businesses put in place.

These u-turns have left bosses in East Anglia dizzy – and although all agree for the need to protect public health they are increasingly exasperated by the handling of the crisis.

“We’ve been left to rot. I feel like the violinist on the Titanic. Everyone knows we’re going down and businesses like me are just trying to keep people’s spirits up,” said Glen Sarabi, who is the manager for a handful of bars across Norwich.

“You can’t help but feel that it’s businesses like ours which will be the first to sink.

The manager of Bond in Tombland, and Truth, Mantra and Fetch in Prince of Wales Road, added: “It’s moronic. The first weekend curfew was introduced the road was as busy as any normal weekend because you had thousands of people pouring out of all the bars and restaurants – which are controlled and safe environments – into the street which is not controlled. Then you’ve got people packing into taxis, taking their face masks off, trying to get into Tesco to buy more alcohol. They just haven’t thought it through – it should at least be a softer or staggered curfew.”

According to a Public Health England report published earlier this month only 5pc of cases identified through test and trace have been linked to outbreaks in pubs.

So while the effectiveness of such policies remains to be seen, businesses are already feeling the chokehold tightening.

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Mr Sarabi was echoed by Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King which has sites across Norwich including the Woolpack and the Complete Angler, who said: “The industry is still dealing with the crippling after-effects of the nationwide lockdown and the cumulative effect of the new restrictions, combined with the singling out of pubs, mean the measures announced by the chancellor don’t go far enough, especially for drink-led city centre pubs. More targeted support is needed to help those people whose pubs remain closed, or businesses that were starting to recover which have again become unviable.”
At Frank’s Bar, an independent bar and restaurant in the Lanes, co-owner James Wingfield said that he could have filled the bar “multiple times” but had to turn many customers away. 
“We’re getting by. But we could have filled the bar a few times over with the amount of customers we had and turned away,” he said. 
Unlike other parts of the city he said kick-out time in the Lanes has not resulted in high footfall. “By and large people have got it and been understanding of the situation - we haven’t had anyone trying to push their luck and come 10pm people have gone home quietly.”


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