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Snack tax, 10pm curfew and other weird Covid pub rules

Lawmakers are struggling to balance protecting the hospitality industry with preventing people from over-mingling.


The relationship between pubs and governments in the age of coronavirus could best be summed up as ‘it’s complicated’. On one hand, drinkeries are popular with the public (pre-Covid, it’s where a quarter of Brits said they felt happiest) and also big employers (in the UK, almost half a million people worked in one at the start of 2020). On the other hand, pubs and bars seem like prime contagion zones because they involve a lot of strangers in the same space, and because alcohol consumption may lower our likelihood of following social distancing protocol.

Governments have tried to strike a balance by keeping pubs open but with new rules. In New York, bars cannot serve alcohol unless a customer also orders food. In the UK, bars and pubs now have to close at 10pm. The reasoning behind both seems to be to curb excessive drinking (and subsequent drunk-hugging of people outside your bubble) by forcibly limiting drinking hours or getting people to soak up that martini with more than an olive. Plus, navigating weird and wonderful new rules might act as a flashing warning sign to people that things are still not ‘normal’ and they consequently remain careful.

However, many people think these rules have instead achieved the worst of all worlds. From the saving-business side of things, bars and pubs say these rules are hitting their bottom line, making it more likely they’ll have to close or lay off staff. Many have thwarted the spirit of the laws by offering very cheap snacks or by opening earlier in the day.

From the covid-prevention side of things, the 10pm curfew has been criticised for creating crowds by pushing masses of people out onto the streets and public transport systems at the same. And because people can still drink with friends in their homes, many may simply carry on the night in their living room.

Read our explainer on: regulation.

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