Boris Johnson has been warned by business leaders that a fresh package of economic support would be required if rising Covid-19 infections prevent the further relaxation of pandemic restrictions next month.
After the reopening of hospitality venues indoors across all four nations of the UK, latest monthly assessment of economic developments suggests the country is on course for a short-term growth boom this summer.
Retail sales have surged above pre-pandemic levels, while customers returning to restaurants, pubs and cafes have driven a sharp rise in consumer spending to begin repairing the damage from the worst recession in 300 years.
However, concerns are mounting over the Covid variant first detected in India – B.1.617.2 – and the possibility that rising infections could delay the next phase of the government’s roadmap for relaxing controls in England.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, said that despite substantial progress being made, the last month had been “far from a champagne moment for the industry” after the cumulative damage from repeated closures over the past year.
Nicholls said any delay to government’s roadmap would require the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to bring forward a fresh package of financial support and to consider extending the furlough scheme.
“At this point, any delay to the removal of restrictions on 21 June will be nothing short of catastrophic for a sector that has already lost £80bn in sales – two-thirds of its pre-pandemic revenue – over the past year.
“Should there be one, it needs to be communicated well in advance and come with further support,” she said.
On the dashboard in the past month, the number of people eating out in restaurants has risen to 75% above the levels recorded on comparable days two years ago, before the pandemic struck, amid evidence of pent-up demand from consumers confined to staying at home for much of the year so far.