U.K.’s Johnson Hints Hospitality Faces Long Wait to Reopen

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested pubs and restaurants will be among the last venues to reopen as the government lifts pandemic restrictions.

Johnson is preparing to publish on Monday a “road map” to ending the national lockdown that has been in place since early January, shuttering non-essential shops and closing restaurants except for take-away service.

The curbs on socializing and commercial activity will be eased “in stages” and in a “cautious” way over the months ahead, Johnson said on Wednesday.

“You perhaps remember from last year that we opened up hospitality fully as one of the last things that we did” after the first lockdown, the prime minister told broadcasters during a trip to Wales. There’s “obviously an extra risk of transmission” of coronavirus when people gather to drink alcohol and eat meals in pubs and restaurants, he said.

The government has prioritized reopening schools when restrictions start to ease, and the premier is aiming to allow face-to-face teaching to begin again from March 8. No decision has been announced on whether all schools in England will go back at once, or if there will be a phased return to the classroom for different age groups.

Beyond schools, officials are looking at relaxing rules on outdoor socializing and exercise, and then allowing non-essential stores to reopen, followed by hospitality venues. Ministers have said they will base their decisions on the state of the pandemic and the effectiveness of the vaccination program.

Members of Johnson’s Conservative Party are pushing him to reopen the economy faster, fearing the damage to jobs and businesses. Against that, the premier is seeking to balance the need to keep control over a pandemic he has been criticized for mishandling. He has said he wants the current third national lockdown to be the last.

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