Why the cut to Covid self-isolation rules is 'too little, too late' for London business

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Beleaguered bars and restaurants in London's West End have described the cut to Covid self-isolation rules as 'too little, too late'.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said people who test positive can end their isolation after five days instead of seven.

He told the House of Commons the UK Health Security Agency has concluded two thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious after five days.

Before Christmas, Central London's hospitality trade was hit by the triple whammy of customers being cautious, commuters working from home and staff off sick or self-isolating.

But the Omicron wave peaked just before the New Year according to Sir Kevin Fenton, the capital's top public health official.

He told the London Assembly health committee the number of new cases was falling, fewer people were in hospital and fewer patients were on ventilators.

The new self-isolation period comes into force in England on Monday.

"I think it's probably too little too late," said Nathan Evans, managing partner at West End steakhouse Smith & Smollensky.

Businesses were badly affected badly by Covid staff sickness

He added: "I think London is definitely through the worst of the Omicron variant pandemic phase. We had 18 people off the week before Christmas from a staff of 76 and we don't have anybody off sick at the moment."

Drury Lane tapas bar Barrafina was forced to close in December because of self-isolation and staff sickness but has now reopened.

"I don't think it will be a drastic change to our businesses as majority of staff are now back in," said Aurelija Sovaite, Barrrafina operations manager.

"It was very difficult in December, however now we're more or less up to speed," she added.

"But it's still a very welcome change. We'll take any bit of positive news."

Sir Kevin described Omicron as the 'most infectious agent' he had seen.

"Although there is a temptation to say that the worst is behind us, that may be true in terms of the peak however our rates are still phenomenally high," said Sir Kevin.

"They're in excess now of 1,500 per 100,000. That's more than four times higher than where we were before the wave started," he added.