Mr Sunak had been in the US on a ‘long-planned’ Government trip to meet tech bosses but his timing has attracted criticism, with one top British executive telling the FT that he was too busy drinking ‘organic kale smoothies’.
Pictures taken in Leeds, London and Newcastle showed once-packed nightlife venues had taken a battering as just a handful of revellers were seen enjoying festive nights out on so-called Black Eye Friday – one of the busiest nights out of the year.
Pubs and restaurants have already been forced to close either due to a shortage of staff or a lack of customers as Omicron continued to tighten its paralysing grip on the nation this week.
Industry experts fear the Government’s increasingly alarmist messages surrounding the Omicron mutant strain are affecting customer confidence over what should be a peak period for pubs, bars and restaurants.
Festive takings are expected to fall by up to 40 per cent in December – crippling venues that survived by a thread during previous lockdowns and expect to receive no financial support this time around.
Mr Sunak met hospitality leaders yesterday via Zoom but had to miss one roundtable event because it clashed with a scheduled call with US healthcare bosses.
Bosses are demanding the Government bring forward fresh financial support after the spread of the variant and the latest Covid advice to be cautious ahead of Christmas prompted a wave of booking cancellations. Industry leaders expect the final total to hit £4billion of lost takings.
But Mr Sunak insisted ministers were already helping, telling the BBC: ‘Until spring next year most businesses are only paying a quarter of their business rates bill, they are benefitting from a reduced rate of VAT all the way through to next spring, and thirdly there is about a quarter of a billion pounds of cash sitting with local authorities to support those businesses.’
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been pictured arriving back in the UK at Heathrow Airport for crunch talks with furious hospitality bosses struggling with plummeting demand due to the Omicron mutant strain
Pubs and restaurants have already been forced to close either due to a shortage of staff or a lack of customers as Omicron continued to tighten its paralysing grip on the nation this week. Pictured: An empty bar in Leeds
Once-bustling streets in London’s Soho district (above) were sparsely populated on Friday evening amid Omicron fears
Industry experts fear the Government’s increasingly alarmist messages surrounding the Omicron mutant strain are affecting customer confidence over what should be a peak period for pubs, bars and restaurants. Pictured: A quiet Soho on Friday
Meanwhile, bars and clubs in central Leeds were also quiet on Friday evening as punters shied away from a big Christmas blow out
A handful of young revellers were pictured braving the cold, and mounting Omicron fears, in Leeds on Friday evening
Hundreds of restaurants across the country have been forced to close in recent days owing to a lack of staff, or customers. Pictured: A closed venue in Leeds
Bosses are demanding the Government bring forward fresh financial support after the spread of the variant and the latest Covid advice to be cautious ahead of Christmas prompted a wave of booking cancellations. Above: A quiet bar in Leeds
Pictures show an empty street in Soho and Central London on so-called ‘Black Eye Friday’ on December 17
A quiet Soho in London last night. Normally the streets would be packed at this time of the year – just one day before Black Eye Friday
Gloucester Quays pictured today. Lots of people are deciding to stay away from pubs and restaurants to avoid catching Covid before Christmas
This restaurant in Newcastle had swathes of empty tables – while only a few revellers were out and about in bars
Three women dressed as Santa Claus enjoyed a night out in Newcastle city centre yesterday – which was far quieter than usual
Some bars in Newcastle managed to attract queues. However, it was still quiet for the time of the year – usually one of the busiest
An empty platform at London Bridge underground station this morning after commuters were asked to work from home
An empty escalator at London Bridge today. The fall in passenger numbers will be another blow for Transport for London, which is struggling with record debt
LONDON: English cities were eerily quiet this morning too as commuters continued to stay away. The congestion level reported by TomTom in the capital at 8am was 40 per cent – the lowest level all week
LIVERPOOL: Traffic levels at the same period today were 40 per cent in Liverpool (pictured), 33 per cent in Birmingham , 36 per cent in Manchester, 34 per cent in Sheffield, 46 per cent in Leeds and 28 per cent in Newcastle
Retail sales accelerated in November… but is there an Omicron crash coming?
UK retail sales picked up pace in November as shoppers hit the high street for early Christmas shopping and Black Friday, according to official figures. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes increased by 1.4% for the month, accelerating from a 0.8% increase in October.
The reading was better than expected, with analysts having forecast that growth would remain steady at 0.8%. The ONS said sales volumes across the sector were now 7.2% higher than their pre-pandemic levels from February 2020.
November was boosted by non-food sales in stores, which lifted by 2% for the month. It highlighted that this was particularly boosted by 2.9% growth in sales at clothing stores, which saw sales surpass pre-pandemic levels for the first time.
Heather Bovill, deputy director for surveys and economic indicators at the ONS, said: “Retail sales picked up in November, boosted by strong Black Friday and pre-Christmas trading. Clothing stores fared particularly well and have exceeded their pre-pandemic level for the first time.’
The Chancellor told CNN he is holding in-person talks today after cutting short his visit. ‘I understand this is a concerning time for business leaders across the country,’ he said. ‘I’ve been in touch with industry business leaders and it’s why I’ve curtailed my trip and will be leaving earlier tonight.’
He insisted ministers were not telling people to cancel their Christmas events, adding: ‘The situation is very different to what we’ve done and encountered before. We’re not telling people to cancel things, we’re not closing down businesses.’
The congestion level reported by TomTom in London at 8am was 40 per cent – the lowest level all week.
Traffic levels at the same period today were 33 per cent in Birmingham, 36 per cent in Manchester, 40 per cent in Liverpool, 34 per cent in Sheffield, 46 per cent in Leeds and 28 per cent in Newcastle.
Pubs and restaurants have now started closing early for Christmas after they were hit by a ‘double whammy’ of staff absences and plummeting consumer confidence.
Some restaurants said they had ‘no option’ but to shut because so many of their staff have caught coronavirus and have had to isolate amid fears the problem will worsen as the ‘tidal wave’ of infections surges across the country.
Mr Sunak and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke held calls yesterday with firms including Prezzo, Black Sheep Brewery, Nando’s, Greene King, Whitbread and Adnams.
Labour has called on the Government to announce a new support package for the sector but ministers are yet to commit to providing any extra cash.
It is feared that the UK could be recording hundreds of thousands of daily Covid cases by Christmas Eve as Omicron continues to surge.
That could force millions of Brits into isolation, potentially causing huge disruption to the workforce and to key industries.
The hospitality industry has accused Boris Johnson of imposing a ‘lockdown by stealth’ after Professor Chris Whitty urged people to limit socialising in the coming days.
Mr Johnson denied the claim yesterday, telling reporters: ‘We’re not saying that we want to cancel stuff, we’re not locking stuff down, and the fastest route back to normality is to get boosted.’
Some small pubs and restaurants are deciding it is better to shut than stay open, either because lots of their staff have contracted Covid and are not available, or because nearly all their bookings have been cancelled. However, most venues remain open and very few big chains have shut.
Yesterday, society favourite Evelyn’s Table in London’s Soho put its closure down to ‘members of our core team having to isolate’.
Some revellers in Leeds continued to celebrate last night on what would normally be one of the busiest nights of the year
Helping hand: A man assists a fellow reveller with her footwear during an evening out in Leeds last night
A group of friends posing for the camera in Newcastle. Bars and restaurants are smarting from lower than normal demand
Barrafina Drury Lane in Covent Garden said ‘staff members isolating makes the services non-viable’, while Kol in London’s Marylebone said that it had ‘no option’ but to temporarily close while ‘key team members isolate’.
Darjeeling Express near Leicester Square reported a ‘double whammy of staff sickness combined with huge cancellations of groups’, while Blend Kitchen in Sheffield said it had seen a 50 per cent fall in bookings.
After daily virus cases surged to a record 88,376 with 146 deaths yesterday, British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith warned: ‘With the UK recording its highest ever number of Covid cases in a single day, and this being set to rise further in the coming days and weeks, businesses now face the two-punch combination of serious issues with staff absence and plummeting consumer confidence.’
Britain could reach up to 460,000 daily Covid cases by Christmas Eve – forcing two million people into isolation – if infections continue to increase as quickly as some scientists expect. Such huge numbers could cause massive disruption to key services from people being off work.
While government contingency plans call for the military to be called in to cover gaps in services such as the NHS, police, Border Force and energy workers if they are hit by huge shortages, they are untested in the real world. Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital Trust in London said 10 per cent of its staff are currently off due to Covid.
If the number of people testing positive doubles every three days, then there would be 463,704 daily cases on Christmas Eve. That would force the 1.9million people testing positive between now and then into isolation for 10 days, the equivalent of 3 per cent of the population
Such huge numbers could partially paralyse the country, causing ‘huge disruption from people being off work’ and threatening key services including the NHS and police, experts claimed. Graph shows: The number of NHS staff off work with Covid every day over the last two weeks. Dips on December 5 and 12 occurred on Sundays, when fewer staff are working and therefore less absences are expected. Figures are expected to increase in the coming weeks
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