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Pubs will not reopen until Christmas warns Suffolk MP Poulter

PUBLISHED: 06:00 21 April 2020 | UPDATED: 08:07 21 April 2020

An empty Cardinal Park in Ipswich. Will the restaurants be shut until Christmas?  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

An empty Cardinal Park in Ipswich. Will the restaurants be shut until Christmas? Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Pubs, restaurants, theatres and sports venues are unlikely to reopen to the public much before Christmas, a Suffolk MP has warned.

Dr Dan Poulter has warned pubs and restaurants could be closed until Christmas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDr Dan Poulter has warned pubs and restaurants could be closed until Christmas. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Dr Dan Poulter said it would not be possible to open places where large numbers of people gathered together until scientists and politicians were sure that they had got on top of the Covid-19 coronavirus, and that there was probably a reliable vaccine.

Dr Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, has been working in a London hospital during the lockdown and said that the figures for new infections and the number of hospital beds occupied by coronavirus patients might be coming down, but there was no reason to ease off on the lockdown at present.

There may be scope for a partial easing in a few weeks – but that would have to be very cautious and he agreed with cabinet minister Michael Gove who said that the “hospitality sector” would be among the last to see the restrictions lifted.

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Dr Poulter said: “We cannot consider lifting the lockdown in a significant way until we get down to about 100 new cases a day and then introduce a phone app to tell people if they have come in contact with someone who has the virus. Then they would have to go into isolation.

“You would need the vast majority of people to have that app for this to be effective and we will have to see it is working for some time before we can ease the social distancing rules. Without it, as soon as the lockdown is lifted cases will take off.”

A vaccine was the other element of the battle to defeat coronavirus – and he was 80-90% confident that would be developed by September or October.

“But that will take time to get everyone vaccinated. I think the idea that the hospitality sector will be closed until Christmas is realistic – we cannot rush this.”

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Dr Poulter said it was vital that the government offered support to local pubs and restaurants to allow them the chance to weather the storm – several had diversified to offer takeaways or become community hubs, but this was not compensating them for their normal businesses.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt agreed that pubs would need ongoing support from the government: “I don’t know how long they will have to remain closed. They cannot reopen until it is safe to do so. But I know how important pubs are to the community and the economy in my constituency so I will be pressing the government to ensure they are supported to come through this crisis.”

The chair of the Ipswich Vision Partnership Terry Hunt accepted that the prolonged closure of pubs and restaurants would have a major impact on the future and the character of the town.

He said: “That is a very important part of life in our town and everyone would love to see them being able to reopen. But we cannot do anything like that while this virus is still out there and while there is a danger of it returning.

“If that means being closed until Christmas or even later, then so be it. We cannot risk public health – and I’m not sure that people would be prepared to use them if they thought there was a danger of the virus returning and hitting them.”

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A closure until the end of the year would inevitably threaten the viability of many establishments in a sector that has faced challenges.

The crisis comes just months after Cardinal Park’s restaurants were remodelled to allow outdoor seating – this would have been the first summer for that. But now none are able to offer restaurant services.

It also comes a year after the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant closed its doors.

And there are fears that some national chains represented in the town could struggle to survive a prolonged closure – raising fears there could be large gaps in some of the town’s food and drink sector after the crisis eases.


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