Santa says "No! No! No!" to festive dining out as the pandemic continues

Tier 3 or not Tier 3? That is the question that has been on everyone's lips this week. 

Two weeks ago, lockdown #2 ended and Greater Manchester found itself in much the same position as it was relegated to a new, tighter Tier 3. 

Restaurants and bars have remained closed while Xmas shopping has been allowed to go ahead. 

Now, a day later than promised, Heath Secretary Matt Hancock has announced England tiers review starting by saying, "We've come so far, we mustn't blow it now."

We’ve not had one case. Not one staff member. Not one customer. We go over and above in terms of cleansing and disinfecting.

"Controlling infection rates is about limiting patient harm and this is a moment when we should act with caution," he added.

Areas including Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Peterborough and Portsmouth have moved up into Tier 3. Manchester's Tier 3 status remains unchanged meaning that restaurants are closed to dine in customers and can only offer takeout and delivery. The Christmas period is the busiest period of the year and the hospitality industry has lost hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue.

The restaurateurs and bar owners we have spoken to over the past couple of weeks have been in two camps: resigned to not opening again until January (at the earliest) no matter what the government announcement, or crossing everything in the hope of pre-Xmas reopening in the event that our region be moved up to Tier 2.

So today’s announcement has brought despair and frustration for many as Manchester remains in Tier 3 until the new year. 

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Burnham seemed resigned to no change earlier in the week

As The Guardian reported on Wednesday, Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has pointed out that the rate in Greater Manchester is now “significantly below” the average for England - much lower than London - but he said that he would understand if the government decide to err on the side of caution and keep us in Tier 3.

But the government is standing firm and keeping restrictions tight in current Tier 3 areas. This comes as scientists have been urging the PM to also tighten the relaxed rules around Xmas and a press conference in which Johnson said the rules would remain as is but asked the UK to have a ‘very little Christmas’. 

We spoke to some restaurateurs about the situation. Cue, from Vietnamese restaurant Pho Cue which opened earlier this year, said: “We [were] really hoping that we [could] reopen to salvage what's left of this month. Since all the shops have reopened, we have seen a significant drop in business and it's really worrying. 

“As a new business, we started very well but the lockdown has really damaged [us] as we're forced to move to take-away, which doesn't suit the type of food we sell. Not only that, a hundred percent of our staff are family so we can't just close or put people on furlough and not think about how it would impact them financially.  At the moment we are doing the best we can in this situation.”

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The team at Pho Cue are clinging on by offering delivery

Eddie Shepherd of inventive, underground veggie supper club The Walled Gardens told us he has also found it very hard:

“It’s [been] really difficult to know what to do. I [had] guests booked in for this weekend and for between Xmas and new year. I have to have all the prep done and ingredients in, ready to open and cook for them. I really, really [hoped I would] get to cook for them, but all that prep will have to go to local food charities if I can’t use it. 

“It's a terrible time to potentially lose yet more money, and because of how I’m set up I’ve had no government help at all this year.”

Claire Cecco, co-owner at Salvi’s, which has three restaurants in Manchester, told us on Thursday morning that they were ready to open if they got the go-ahead but she wasn’t feeling overly optimistic. 

They reopened their mozzarella bar and Cucina in the summer and their deli has remained open. She says people are still this week coming in asking for tables for two while they are doing their Xmas shopping. 

“We’re doing takeaway coffees and things but you’re not going to make your millions from a deli, you're still paying rent and wages for the staff who you've taken off furlough. There needs to be a clear direction for us to follow. At the moment we’re all winging it. We’ve got staff who are desperate to get back to work. In November and December, these staff make a lot in tips. That’s their bread and butter. It’s heartbreaking. They count on that money. We’re such a family business, these guys are all sat at home on their own. For their mental health it’s crazy. Everybody’s like family. It’s not just about us, it’s a community and people need that at the moment. We’re not in it for the money, we’re in it for the love. We need to get back to work. We need the hustle and bustle.”

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Salvi's deli remains open

Of course, for all restaurateurs, safety is a priority but Claire, like many, argues that restaurants are not high-risk areas:

“We’ve not had one case. Not one staff member. Not one customer. We go over and above in terms of cleansing and disinfecting. It’s like everybody’s saying, it does feel like we’re being penalised for everybody else. What more can you do? You only have to go in the Arndale and it’s like, what the hell? I don’t know what’s happened with hospitality. I don’t know why we’ve been hung out to dry. But they’ve got to do something otherwise there’s going to be a lot of businesses in Manchester that close - and a lot of independents. Manchester’s going to lose what makes Manchester great, which is the independent restaurants - because there’s only so long that we can carry on.”

If you can continue to support your local food and drink operators by buying takeaways or getting stuck into their hampersXmas meal kitsmerch or wine boxes, please do. 

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Sir Richard Leese

The senior leadership of Manchester City Council reacted to this news:

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “I cannot say that this announcement is not bitterly disappointing so close to Christmas. For many of our businesses the possibility of trading, even in a limited way, would have been a brief respite in what has been a devastating year. 

“So many sectors of our economy have faced disappointment after disappointment this year, made worse by a Government unresponsive to the dire situation they were in. As a Council we will continue to fight for them and to ensure a fair deal for the people who make our city the vibrant and thriving place it is. 

“Additionally, without a Covid-safe hospitality offer during Christmas week we now run the risk of people finding other ways to socialise which will only increase the number of infections. Businesses are trying as hard as they can to find ways to comply but with the goalposts constantly moving it is becoming an impossible task. Had this decision been made a few weeks ago I’m certain we would be in Tier 2. 

“As frustrating as this decision is, I would urge everyone to continue following Covid guidelines. Ultimately the quickest way for rules to be relaxed in the future is if we keep driving down infection rates. 

“If we do this Manchester will build back stronger, faster and better than before.” 

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The city's Director of Public Health David Regan added, “Firstly, a big thank you to Manchester. The rates of new Covid-19 cases have been steadily falling in recent weeks, and that is down to Manchester people playing their part and following the rules carefully to keep each other safe.

“Remaining in Tier 3 is no reflection on how well the rules have been adhered to and although this will no doubt be frustrating for some, it’s vitally important that we do not let our resolve slip now. We must keep infection rates down and protect the NHS, our hospitals and care homes through into the New Year.

“If you are going to see family or friends over the Christmas period, please plan ahead in order to limit the risk of transmission as much as possible. Think about your contacts with your older relatives and friends, along with people with underlying health conditions. We all want to protect those most at risk from the virus before the vaccine programme is fully rolled out.” 

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