PUBS and restaurants in Weymouth have claimed they are ‘an easy target’ after Boris Johnson announced a 10pm curfew on the hospitality industry in a bid to slow spread of coronavirus – but insist they are remaining optimistic for the future.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the curfew in a bid to prevent alcohol-fuelled breaches of social distancing rules, amid fears the UK could see 50,000 coronavirus cases a day by the middle of October without action.

The moves have been criticised by hospitality bosses, who said they were a ‘crushing blow’ for the already-hit industry.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, led criticism of the new restrictions.

She said: "These restrictions will come as another crushing blow for many hospitality businesses struggling to recover so it's crucial these new rules are applied with flexibility.

"A hard close time is bad for business and bad for controlling the virus - we need to allow time for people to disperse over a longer period. Table service has been widely adopted in some parts of the sector since reopening but it is not necessary across all businesses, such as coffee shops.

"It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when Government data shows that just 5% of infections out of the home are related to hospitality.

"Where such restrictions have been put in place locally they have not cut infection rates, merely damaged business and cost jobs."

Lyn Mackenzie, landlady of The Belvedere in Weymouth’s High West Street, said: “We are an easy target. I have had more issues being in a supermarket or going near the school than being in my pub because this is a controlled environment.

“I feel 10 times safe in the pub than I do at the shop. We are practically deep cleaning every day and have always had a policy of six to a table even before those rules were introduced.

“My concern is that I don’t see an end to this. There is no plan to return life back to some sort of normality. It doesn’t feel like it’s about the safety anymore. Because they don’t know the answers, they are not providing solutions to live with this in the long term, just making short-sighted knee jerk reactions.”

Lyn said she had turned a negative into a positive during lockdown by using the time to repair and refurbish the historic venue. She has continued to support local musicians by hosting live gigs in the garden of the pub since doors were allowed to reopen, but says she is concerned by the impact on their livelihoods, as well as those in the pub trade, any tougher restrictions will have.

She added: “I am not sure what impact a 10pm curfew will actually have on us based on the trade we are doing since lockdown as we have no live bands inside due to the social distancing regulations. “I hope people will go out earlier to venues and continue to support the local businesses that don’t have the financial backing. We all live in hope.”

Amy Burton, owner of The Nook, said: “As a business we have adapted a lot since March and have pushed to stay positive and not let this situation beat us. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remain positive especially as we are going into the shoulder months as a seasonal resort.

"Some of the new regulations will not impact us too harshly - we already operate a paper track and trace system and have done since July and we have only ever operated a table service system.

“The big shock is obviously the 10pm curfew. We are late night venue so we are very fearful of the impact this will have on revenue and ability to retain staff.

"In our opinion a hard close time is bad for business and bad for controlling the virus - we need to allow time for people to socialise and then disperse over a longer period. 

“The government will need to understand that this will further damage confidence within our industry and pubs and bars will continue to struggle long into 2021.

“We hope a new support package for the industry as a whole is on the way including a continuation of the VAT cut until the end of 2021 together with an extension of the business rates holiday and a further employment support package specifically for hospitality.

“We agree with the Government that we are all in this together and can only pray that our customers adapt to this new normal and continue to support us as they have so far. 

Rhys Hardwick, Manager at The Nook, said: “Realistically we don’t know that a 10pm curfew will have an effect on the stats as it will force more people out earlier in more concentrated numbers and once they are out of the venues there is nothing we can do to control it.

“They decided to help us out with the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, encouraging people to go out, and then they turn around and do a 180 on it.

“We are currently trying to read through all of the small print of the government guidance to make sure we are not breaking any laws. We have always followed the rules and kept to a maximum of six per table and run a track and tracing system, so these extra regulations shouldn’t have too much of an impact on us.

“We will continue to adapt as we have done throughout and we are still running our delivery and takeaway service.”

Barry Whettingsteel, co-owner of The Crow’s Nest restaurant and Secret Garden café in Hope Square, said: “We’re very lucky at The Crow’s Nest as we have already reduced our Tapas evenings to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and we will only need to close around half an hour earlier than normal. So in theory, these restrictions shouldn’t really affect us.”

However Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, demanded to see the evidence on which the government had based its curfew decision.

He said: "A 10pm closing time for all pubs, bars and other hospitality seems to have emerged from a random policy generator.

"While mandatory table service has been part of the successful Swedish approach and may have merit, the new closing time will be devastating to a hospitality sector that was already suffering after the first lockdown.

"The Government should publish the evidence upon which this decision was based."