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expert reaction to arguments over pubs closing at 10pm

There has been discussion in the media about whether the rule requiring pubs and restaurants to close at 10pm needs to be changed or reviewed after one week of being in place.


Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology at the University of Reading, said:

“The scenes across the country are quite unsurprising. Forcing pubs and restaurants to close simultaneously at 10pm pushes people out onto the street and public transport, potentially condensing crowds together. Given the shorter opening hours, it is understandable that many people seem to be staying out right up until closing time. 

“Without regulated and licensed premises to go to, it is also a concern if people are instead turning to informal gatherings in the streets, where there is less control of behaviour, both in terms of social distancing and general nuisance.

“Although this activity is being done outside, the large numbers of people and the risky behaviour such as singing or perhaps sharing drinks, increases the risk of transmission. If this is what is happening, curfews will end up being counterproductive as a mechanism to break transmission.

“The virus doesn’t care what time it is. Transmission will occur from infected people if they are close enough to others to spread droplets, at 10pm, 10am or any time in between. If the point of the curfew was to encourage people not to go crazy in late-night venues, that’s fine, but if it is encouraging 1970s-style pub closing time mauls, the virus could say, thank you very much.”


Dr Flavio Toxvaerd, University of Cambridge, said:

“We are seeing the unintended consequences of closing pubs early, namely that people crowd together outside pubs and on public transport.

“We have seen this type of measure backfire before. In March, the London Underground reduced services, hoping that only key workers would use it. Instead, we saw trains crowded with commuters.

“Each situation calls for tailored solutions, but two general principles apply. First, where possible, service capacity and opening hours should be expanded to avoid crowds forming. This is especially true for retail and public transport. Second, when demand is concentrated at certain hours of the day, as is the case with pubs, then services need to be staggered. For example, access for customers could be managed and time stamped and punters would be required to leave within a set time since arrival. This type of solution has traditionally worked well for swimming pools, who manage time use with randomly arriving customers.

“We need to be creative and ensure that we make the least damage to the economy while keeping in mind the effect on social activity on the spread of the disease.”


Prof Susan Michie FMedSci, Director of UCL Centre for Behaviour Change, said:

“There are three sets of predictable consequences of closing pubs and restaurants at 10pm.

1) Ejecting everyone at the same time onto the streets and then many onto public transport creates crowds; from a transmission point of view this is especially concerning in the enclosed spaces of public transport

2) Where people have a routine of finishing a social night out at a certain time, having this curtailed suddenly leads to continuing socialising after the curfew, including in people’s houses.

3) People may compensate for the earlier closing time by starting to drink earlier and drinking more rapidly towards the end, leading to more disinhibition and therefore less distancing between people.

“These consequences of the curfew undermine the gains saved by shortening the latter part of the evening and may even be counterproductive.  The measure is another example of a restriction brought in outwith a coherent strategy and without sufficient consultation with relevant experts and communities.  These are dangerous times and it is of the utmost importance that the Government listen to both those advising Government directly and those complementing that advice on Independent SAGE. The latter have consistently argued that high risk venues such as indoor pubs and restaurants should be closed to maximise the chance of children being able to attend school.  As the Chief Medical Officer said, ‘We can’t have it all’.”


Prof Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University, said:

“The 10pm curfew is a nice illustration of the problems with the rule-based approach to pandemic management that is increasingly evident – and which lacks an evidence base. It is also symptomatic of the limited life experience of many of those involved in making policies, the patrician policymaking that I have describe before. When was any of those involved in making this decision last in a city centre pub at closing time? The disdain for the night time economy reflects the Puritan streak in public health that has marked so many interventions. Anyone with a basic knowledge of sociology, anthropology, socio-legal studies or criminology would have predicted the transport chaos that Andy Burnham has described – and the street parties that we have seen elsewhere. The curfew does not seem to have had any measurable impact in the local areas where it has already been tried: indeed there is precious little evidence that any of the social interventions in those areas have worked. This, of course, raises the question of why the government is doubling down in ways that will provoke further conflict between police and citizens and inflict yet more misery in pursuit of the impossible dream of total control.”




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