Omicron variant: Hospitality industry fears grow after cancellations

Damian Wawrzyniak
Damian Wawrzyniak, chef at House of Feasts Credit: ITV Anglia

A restaurant owner said his business saw 20 bookings cancelled within 48 hours of the announcement that mask restrictions were being reintroduced - and now fears for the future of his business.

Chef Damian Wawrzyniak said despite no new restrictions being imposed on the hospitality sector, the news of the new variant is proving worrying enough to put people off booking as the industry nears a crucial time of year.

He said: "Not even 48 hours from Boris Johnson's comments regarding new restrictions and Omicron and more than 20 tables cancelled their bookings due to the new announcement. "All the news says no masks will be required for hospitality...but that's why people are cancelling because they are scared people won't be wearing masks and they are too scared to dine."

Writing on Twitter, Mr Wawrzyniak, whose restaurant is in Peterborough, said: "I've learned a lot during lockdown, but Christmas is crucial to the hospitality sector. Everyone has been waiting for it since summer. We barely survived lockdown, we won't be able to take another hit."

New face covering rules have come into force in England in response to concerns over the Omicron variant of coronavirus, requiring people to wear masks in shops and on public transport.

But retail bosses have warned that they cannot be expected to enforce new rules requiring staff and customers to wear masks in shops.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), stressed it was the role of the authorities to enforce the new regulations, adding that customers also had responsibility to adhere to the rules.

"Retailers will be communicating the new rules on face coverings in England through in-store signage and other channels," she said.

"However, it is vital that we do not place hardworking retail staff in harm's way, and enforcement of face coverings must remain the duty of the authorities.

Anjali Wanigauriya, owner of The Dutch Hospital gift shop in Milton Keynes said she was relieved the government has made masks mandatory.

But she added: "However, not everyone’s wearing them. About 40% aren’t, but we can’t control what people do.”

Workers must be 'valued, respected and protected'

It is the latest challenge for retailers ahead of a key Christmas period. They have already seen pressure from supply chain disruption and labour shortages.

The shop workers' union Usdaw says the Government should never have lifted the requirement to wear a face covering in shops and on public transport, suggesting it had reduced people's willingness to comply with the reintroduced rules.

Paddy Lillis, the Usdaw General Secretary said staff in shops were already worried about catching Covid-19 and Omicron was a new concern.

He said: "We ask the public to follow the rules and respect shop workers, abuse is not a part of their job... Many shop workers are at a greater risk of catching the virus and taking it home to their families. Yet they have worked throughout the pandemic to keep the country supplied with essentials. These key workers must be valued, respected and protected.”

Meanwhile, Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland grocery chain, said he would not be asking staff to police the mask rules among customers.

He said safety of staff and customers was a priority but staff were already under pressure at the busiest time of the year.

Retail bosses have warned that they have seen rising violence and abuse against shop workers in recent years, but that this has been further exacerbated by the pandemic and enforcement of Covid regulations in stores.

People will also now be required to wear face coverings and masks on public transport, too.

The Unite trade union has called for face coverings to also become mandatory in pubs, cafes and restaurants after they were not included in the rule change.