You can sort of see the logic, but the unintended consequences have not been thought through

The latest idea to come out of the Downing Street Random Policy Generator is a 10pm “curfew” for the hospitality industry. The government has been scouring the world (except Sweden) for new ways to deal with the virus and Matt Hancock seems particularly impressed with Belgium where, he says, “the case rate has come right down when they put a curfew in place”.

In fact, the curfew was only in place in Antwerp and its bars were allowed to open until 11pm. In the rest of Belgium, authorities have forced pubs and restaurants to close by 1am. Rules that seem draconian to Europeans would be almost hedonistic in Britain.

Scholars of the English language will have noticed that closing pubs a bit earlier does not amount to a curfew. In Antwerp, people had to stay indoors after 11.30pm. That is a curfew. The bars only closed at 11pm so people could get home in time.

It is impossible to know what impact the Antwerp curfew had because it was part of a package of measures, but there was a decline in the number of Covid cases in Belgium last month. Mr Hancock has not yet called for a literal curfew in this country, but a YouGov survey suggests that public opinion would be behind him if he did. Astonishingly, 62 per cent of those surveyed said they would support a ban on people leaving their houses between 10pm and 5am.

The YouGov question was somewhat leading since it strongly implied that such a measure would “help prevent a second wave of Covid-19”. Nevertheless, it is a sign of how frit the British public have become in this foul year. Or it may simply be that two-thirds of us do not go out after 10pm and therefore don’t see it as a freedom worth defending, although that is hardly a cheerier explanation.

On Tuesday, the Lancashire town of Bolton became the guinea pig for shorter opening hours when its pubs and takeaways were ordered to close by 10pm. You can almost see the logic in the idea. People who are sloshed are more likely to start kissing and hugging each other, so if last orders are called before they get too merry, the ‘rona has less chance to spread. It’s a superficially plausible theory, but I would suggest the average pubgoer has already reached that stage by the time the clock strikes ten. I have no empirical evidence for this, but you know it is true.

One obvious unintended consequence is that revellers – as the tabloids call them – will go back to someone’s house to continue drinking into the small hours with no social distancing. Another is that they will go out earlier and drink against the clock. One of the reasons for relaxing the licensing laws in 2005 was to stop this kind of thing happening. The Blair government wanted to discourage large numbers of people gathering in town centres after being kicked out of pubs at the same time. Given our current circumstances, it would be perverse to turn the clock back. 

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Curfew, United Kingdom, Coronavirus, Matt Hancock

World news – GB – The last thing the government should
do is impose a useless Covid curfew

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