Covid-19: Hospitality industry warns coronavirus restrictions leading to 'lockdown by stealth'

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Hospitality businesses are warning that Covid restrictions and growing numbers of cases are leading to a "lockdown by stealth", with trade falling through the floor at what should be the industry's busiest time.

They say public confidence is waning as government sounds the alarm about the Omicron variant, but without putting in place packages of financial support to make up the shortfall.

At Platters sandwich shop in Huntingdon, the work-from-home advice has had the biggest impact on business. With fewer people working in offices, customer numbers have fallen dramatically.

Elizabeth Stringer from the shop said they were trying to deliver food instead, adding: "We're not going to get the footfall we used to get. A lot of our business is buffets and now we can't really do them because offices have shut down."

Footfall has dropped at Platters because more people are working from home Credit: ITV Anglia

The government has not told hospitality venues to close, but the prime minister has urged people to be cautious.

"We don't want to make your choices for you about your social life, we're not closing things, but what we are saying is people should be cautious and they should think about their activities in the run up to Christmas," he said, during a visit to a vaccination centre in Kent on Thursday. "Nobody wants to get Omicron and to be unwell and be forced to isolate."

The industry trade body for hospitality is warning takings over the Christmas period are likely to be down by 40%.

At The Plough in Coton in Cambridgeshire, Christmas cancellations have gone from bad to worse.

Following the government's introduction of Plan B restrictions last week, the gastropub lost bookings for 700 covers - a total that has now risen to over 1,000 at a time when trade should be at its highest.

Pasquale Benedetto, general manager, said: "I've prepared business-wise but I've only got a limited amount to make sure we get through.

"Whenever the phone rings, whenever I get contacted through the bookings system it's cancellations. It's a sinking feeling in your stomach and it is continual.

"The sleepless nights have kicked back in again. It's very worrying about how long this is going to go on, if we're going to be closed down or not. I'm worried about ordering two weeks' worth of food and drink and I'm worried about the staffing situation in the New Year."