Coronavirus: Lockdown forces 'gutted' Leicester firms to abandon reopening

·Finance and policy reporter
Robin Dignall at hair salon Hair@1RD in Leicester; the city has became the first UK area to be subjected to a local lockdown after a spike in coronavirus cases. Photo: PA
Robin Dignall at hair salon Hair@1RD in Leicester; the city has became the first UK area to be subjected to a local lockdown after a spike in coronavirus cases. Photo: PA

Leicester firms have reacted with dismay after the government ordered them to close or abandon reopening plans in Britain’s first localised coronavirus lockdown.

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced on Tuesday that non-essential retailers would have to shut up shop from Tuesday, just two weeks after they reopened their doors following months in lockdown.

Hospitality venues like pubs as well as hairdressers will have to wait another two weeks to reopen, rather than opening up on 4 July as elsewhere in England.

Hancock also said the government was “recommending against travel unless it’s essential” for Leicester residents. He said it was not enforcing a travel ban, but was keeping this under review, adding: “We will if we have to.”

A spokesperson for Leicester’s Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) branch told Yahoo Finance UK: “We can understand the need for further lockdown measures, but are saddened by the short time period given to local businesses to react.”

The branch tweeted that the announcement marked “bad news” for local pubs, bars and restaurants.

READ MORE: UK economy recorded biggest fall since 1979 as pandemic struck

Asked about fears some locals may flout guidelines by travelling to pubs outside the city, the spokesperson added: “We would recommend drinkers not to travel outside their local area at the moment. All pubs will still have limited seating, and will be well supported by their local residents.”

But he encouraged residents to support local venues when restrictions are eased by “getting down to the pub when it’s safe to do so.” Pubs “provide community, safe spaces and contribute to the local economy,” he added.

Several hospitality chiefs had also told the local LeicestershireLive news site of their frustrations when a lockdown was first floated over the weekend, but accepted the government’s decision.

Alex Hylton, landlord of the Salmon pub, said he’d be “absolutely gutted” by a new lockdown. “We’re keen to get back to pulling pints, show off our beer garden makeover and get back to doing what we do best, but ultimately we don’t want to reopen if it won’t be safe for our customers and if that means waiting a little bit longer then we will totally support that decision.”

Shaf Islam, owner of the Chutney Ivy restaurant, told the site he was “devastated” by the idea of further delays to reopening at short notice. “I have spent the past month preparing to reopen fully for in-dining, spending a lot of much-needed resources on screens, booking anti-viral fogging company, purchasing parasols and training staff on COVID-19 safety.”

He added that he felt “very disappointed” with anyone who had breached social distancing guidelines and contributed to rising cases in Leicester. He too accepted the lockdown decision however to keep the public safe.

Some business leaders want further financial assistance. Islam called for a “conversation regarding helping out businesses that are affected by it. Dave Tsouvallaris, owner of cocktail bar 63rd and First, also demanded help for hospitality locally, warning loans were “not a viable option” to replace lost earnings.

Meanwhile hairdressers also shared their despair at fresh delays and cancelled bookings.

Robin Dignall, owner of the Hair@1RD salon in central Leicester, told PA the salon had reopened bookings from 4 July, but would now have to “push everybody back two more weeks.”

“So some may have to wait four, five, six weeks, maybe more before we can fit them in,” he added.

Another Leicester hairdresser told LBC she had eight weeks of bookings in the diary, after months where customers could not have their hair cut professionally. "We're sad about it but ultimately it's about safety and so we're going to contact the clients and get on with it," she said.

The lockdown’s toll on the economy and confidence in the city could ripple through its housing market too. Colby Short, founder of GetAgent.co.uk, said its analysis suggested around 100 estate agents in the city could lose up to £400,000 ($494,656) between them in a month if activity collapsed.