Coronavirus and the leisure sector: "Sorry, we’re closed!"


23 March 2020

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closure) (England) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations) were made on 21 March 2020, under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 with immediate effect; they will be laid before Parliament later today. The Regulations give effect to Boris Johnsons’ statement on 20 March 2020 telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close as soon as they could. 

The regulations affect restaurants, cafes, bars and public houses. Under Regulation 2(1) a person must “close any premises, or part of the premises, in which food or drink are sold for consumption on those premises, and cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises; or if the business sells food or drink for consumption off the premises, cease selling food or drink for consumption on its premises”.

There is no exception for airports. 

Regulation 2(1)(a) does not apply if the business sells food or drink for consumption off the premises; there is no requirement for such a premises to close and as such there may be instances where a pub effectively decides to trade as a takeaway. That being said it is not possible for a public house to trade on off-sales only and as has been suggested use its beer garden for patrons to consume alcohol; Regulation 2(3) states that beer gardens and the like form part of the premises.

In addition, Part 2 of the Regulations covers those within the leisure industry namely cinemas, theatres, night clubs, bingo halls, concert halls, museums and galleries, casinos, betting shops, spas, massage parlours, indoor skating rinks and indoor fitness studios, gyms, swimming pool and other indoor leisure centres; these must also cease to carry on business.

A person “designated by the Secretary of State” may take such action as is necessary to enforce a closure or restriction imposed by Regulation 2. According to Government guidance, ‘designated persons’ will include relevant local authority officers and the police as those responsible for enforcing the Regulations. It is already apparent that most responsible businesses are complying but in Scotland at least one pub has been issued with a closure order after refusing to close

Offences 

A person who contravenes Regulation 2 , without reasonable excuse, commits an offence. The same applies to anyone who obstructs, without reasonable excuse, any person carrying out a function under the Regulations. The proceedings, which may be brought by any person designated by the Secretary of State, are summary only and the penalty is an unlimited fine. 

Conclusion

The Regulations, whilst draconian and far reaching in effect, are envisaged to be temporary in nature and are designed to protect the public. These are certainly unchartered waters and what the future holds remains to be seen; to some extent the textbook has been abandoned!

The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at March 2020.