'Last call!': Curfew begins for English and Welsh pubs

London (AFP) –


The last call echoed around pubs and bars in England and Wales earlier than usual Thursday night, as tighter rules to try to stop a coronavirus surge came into force.

The ramped-up restrictions, announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday, require all premises serving food or drink to close by 10 pm (2100 GMT).

They will apply in Scotland from Friday, while Northern Ireland -- where venues serving only alcohol had just been allowed to reopen, from Tuesday -- is still considering a curfew.

British pubs traditionally close at 11 pm and although some stay open later -- depending on their location and the day -- some question the curfew's likely impact.

"I don't think it's gonna help, it's too little too late, as usual," Joyce, a sceptical drinker in her fifties at the Prince George in the East London neighbourhood of Dalston, told AFP.

"You're just displacing the problem," she predicted.

The UK government and devolved administrations in Cardiff and Edinburgh have imposed the curfew, alongside several other measures, as Covid-19 transmission spirals nationwide once again.

Britain announced 6,634 new cases on Thursday -- the highest daily tally recorded since the pandemic began, though the number of tests being conducted is now at unprecedented levels.

The new curbs come just weeks after the end of a month-long government scheme that encouraged people to eat and drink out by subsidising the bill, in a bid to help the hard-hit hospitality industry.

The new measures have been greeted gloomily from the sector, with the British Beer and Pub Association estimating that fewer than half of pubs were currently breaking even.

Leisure group Whitbread and pub chain Wetherspoons both announced widespread job cuts on Tuesday.

- 'More sober' -

"It's a bit of a shame, but it's just realism of what is going on now," said Kristy Law, the assistant manager at the Prince George.

She noted the pub, which typically serves regulars, usually closes at midnight on weekends but would now be opening an hour earlier at 4pm to compensate.

"It's a nightmare to kick people out at the end of the night!

"I can't imagine what it will be (like) now... everyone will still be in this party mood."

Some experts have questioned whether the new hospitality rules will have a meaningful impact while various people can still meet in pubs, bars and restaurants.

"Closing down restaurants and pubs earlier will do little to stave the spread for as long as multiple different households can interchangeably meet up," said David Strain, clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter.

In England up to six people from different households can currently gather, while in Scotland the same number can meet up but only from two households. In Wales, socialising is limited to six people from within your own household.

However Jennifer Cole, a biological anthropologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, argued that even an hour of less drinking could help.

"Closing the bars and restaurants at 10pm simply keeps people more sober."