Northumberland pubs face anxious wait as new wave of Covid threatens festive period
Publicans and retailers in Northumberland are nervously waiting to find out what impact the Omicron variant of Covid-19 will have on Christmas.
The festive period is crucial for the hospitality trade and, having missed out last year, the prospect of the same happening again is a huge worry for those businesses.
New restrictions include face masks in most public indoor venues, working from home where possible and controversial vaccine passports.
Jake Castleman, owner of The Pig in Muck in Alnwick and The Cock in Bull in Amble, said: “The Christmas period is really what keeps venues and restaurants going until Easter, so it’s key that we remain open during this time with little to no restriction, or the government will once again need to financially support all of these businesses. I had hoped however, that we’d never need to fill out any more forms for government handouts again.
“I am hopeful that we will have a fairly normal Christmas period, but do appreciate the uncertainty of the situation. What we need the government to do is act quickly and with clarity so that the whole hospitality industry can operate, without having a metaphoric blindfold on. If they are going to introduce further restrictions in the way hospitality operates, then we need to know now, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.”
Jackie McDougall, landlady at The Bluebell Inn in Alnwick, said: “I’m very nervous about what's coming.
“I honestly think it will be busier than ever in the lead up to Christmas but it wouldn’t surprise me if there is some sort of break in January, which is our quietest time of the year.
"It can't be any worse than last year. I’m treating every day we stay open as a bonus.”
Phil Farmer, owner of the Cook and Barker Inn at Newton-on-the-Moor, said: "It’s difficult to know how people will react.
"We don’t know if they will stay in and be cautious or take the attitude that their Christmas was spoilt last year so they're going to make sure they enjoy it this time around
“We’ve had one or two cancellations but Christmas Day is still full and we’ve still had to turn people away,” he added. "The Prime Minister is acting much quicker this time than he did last time.
"It was terrible for us last year, as it was for everyone in hospitality, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Shopkeepers in Amble say they have noticed a downturn in trade since the restrictions came in.
Karen Athey, from Leannes, felt more people must be shopping online, adding: “Since the masks were brought back I must say it has got a lot quieter.
And Steve Turner from Sweets and Treats complained: “It's ridiculous,” he said. “You're in and out of a shop in five minutes but in a pub you hang around.”
Liz Morgan, Northumberland’s director of public health and lead director for the Covid-19 vaccination programme, said: “The threat posed by Omicron is grave.
“Scientists are very concerned about the spread of Omicron due to the speed with which it spreads.
“We know that two doses don’t provide as much protection as we would like, but thankfully, a booster dramatically improves this.
“That’s why the Government have asked the NHS to prioritise boosters over other routine care.”