Pubs in Suffolk saw their pre-Christmas business fall by half after fears about the Omicron variant - and they now need government help to ease "the economic equivalent of long Covid", according to the boss of Adnams.

Andy Wood, the chief executive of the Southwold-based brewer, said confidence among potential party-goers was rocked by the government press conference when Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty urged people to "prioritise who they really wanted to see" over Christmas.

Mr Wood told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: “More than half of Christmas has been lost. This is a sector that has the economic equivalent of long Covid. There is going to need to be support for the sector through the dark months of January, February and March."

He said the first three months of the year were always a tough time for pubs and restaurants - and they relied on their takings during the party season to build up a cash reserve to carry them through the quiet times.

"This goes back to the day when Chris Whitty and Boris Johnson seemingly had a disagreement and Chris Whitty told people to prioritise their socialisation and favour Christmas.

"That led to about a 50% drop in the number of visitors to pubs and hotels in both Suffolk and across our nation from what our industry body is saying."

Sajid Javid had thrown a lifeline by saying there would be no further restrictions before the end of the year.

The industry was working hard to make premises Covid-secure and most members of the public were being sensible.

"This is an industry that has been in and out of lockdowns and restrictions for 22 months now so it really hasn't had a chance to rebuild profit and loss accounts so it really is suffering."

British Chambers of Commerce president Baroness McGregor-Smith warned the decision not to impose restrictions before the New Year would not make up for the business lost during what should have been the busiest time of the year, as people stayed away from pubs and restaurants.

While the Treasury has announced grants of up to £6,000 for businesses affected, she said that some were losing more than that each day.