The first night of a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants has passed largely without incident in England – but some venues are warning that the absence of late-night drinkers could put their future into jeopardy.
In London, there was a small police presence on the streets of Soho last night, but no problems were reported.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick joined a patrol in Shoreditch, a fashionable area in the capital’s east, to remind the public of the measures they need to follow to stop coronavirus from spreading.
Scotland Yard is planning to step up its enforcement of COVID regulations in the coming days and weeks as infection rates in London continue to rise.
The big test for premises and the police will likely come on Fridays and Saturdays, where greater numbers of people head to pubs and bars.
The Met said enforcement – which could include on-the-spot fines – will only take place as a last resort, but warned officers “will not hesitate to use their powers to deal with flagrant breaches of the regulations”.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said: “The vast majority of Londoners have stuck to the rules and responded positively to the unprecedented situation we are in. We thank them for that.
“Throughout the last few months we have continued to step in where necessary to protect the public, even as the rules relaxed, with officers working hard to tackle challenging incidents such as unlicensed music events throughout the summer – sometimes facing extreme hostility and even violence.
“However, it is clear that there is a renewed need for everyone to do everything they can to minimise the risk of transmission of what is a potentially deadly disease – that means everyone following the rules.”
Wolverhampton Police posted a video on Twitter thanking the public for complying with the new regulations, and said all venues had shut at 10pm.
However, the measures in Wales are slightly different, as pub-goers will be given an extra 20 minutes to finish their drinks following last orders at 10pm.
The curfew comes as the UK reported 6,634 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours to 9am on Thursday – the highest daily total ever recorded.
A further 40 people are reported to have died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19, official figures show. The last time the daily death toll was higher than 40 was on 14 July, when 44 deaths were recorded.
Sky News correspondents in London and Birmingham were in the city centre as 10pm approached to see how the curfew was handled.
LONDON: “Overall, people were compliant”
By Ashna Hurynag, news correspondent
If anyone was anticipating anger on the first night of the nationwide curfew, they’d be pleasantly surprised. Overall, people were compliant – and after initially flooding the streets when the clock hit 10pm, they dispersed into the night.
In Soho – the party district that promises a feast of fun and festivity – the fluorescent vests and jackets of enforcement officials stood out among the revellers lapping up the last few hours of social freedom at their favourite dining hotspots.
But barely seconds after they’d taken their final sip of their drink, just minutes before 10pm, venues were wiping down tables, stacking chairs and ushering people out the doors.
Bars and restaurants who have clawed their way through a difficult summer were eager to abide by every letter of the new restrictions and do everything in their power to sidestep a hefty fine.
Licencing inspectors, community wardens and even the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police were out enforcing the new curfew.
Some Met officers marched door to door in the early evening reminding premises of the new kick-out time.
But they hardly needed checking up on, the venues were broadly prepared for the early shutdown despite the few days’ notice.
Yet many feel frustration knowing how many millions of pounds will be lost during this six-month ban on late night frivolity.
BIRMINGHAM: “By 10pm, it felt more like 4am”
By Becky Johnson, Midlands correspondent
By 10pm. Birmingham city centre was eerily quiet.
The pubs and bars on Hurst Street had called last orders at 9.30pm. By the official closing time, everyone had trickled away.
On a street that usually has some of busiest bars in the city, it felt more like 4am.
“This is when people are usually just arriving,” one bar owner said. “The students don’t usually come out until 10pm or 11pm. People must have just decided it’s not worth coming out at all.”
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It wasn’t any busier in other parts of the city centre.
“We usually do 40% of our trade after 10pm,” the marketing manager of Aluna, a cocktail bar in the Mailbox said. “That’s all gone.”
A group of students were scathing about the new rule and whether it will reduce coronavirus transmission.
“People will just risk the rules. The night won’t end here. They’ll be having parties,” they said.
A “normal” Thursday night is a vague memory here, pre-pandemic, when people crowded into pubs and clubs.
“We did okay” tonight, one bar owner said. “But by okay, I mean we did 25% of the business we did on a normal Thursday.”
Many are openly questioning whether their business will survive six months of this.