‘Worst time’ for Covid-19 lockdown before Christmas, warn worried Hampstead businesses

Hampstead businesses say the new Covid-19 lockdown will leave them in the lurch at the “worst time” ahead of Christmas.

Pubs and restaurants in NW3 warned that the lack of certainty over the natonwide restrictions, which come into effect on Thursday, mean they’re unable to plan for the festive period - which they were desperately relying on for an upturn in trade.

Local businesses called for a clear exit path out of the lockdown - and greater financial support.

On Saturday, amid a steep rise in coronavirus infections, the prime minister Boris Johnson announced new measures - which he said would last until December 2 - that will see all non-essential shops close. Schools and universities will remain open.

Hampstead restauranteur Rinaldo Mollura said he felt “destroyed” by the move. “It’s coming at the worst time because we can’t plan,” he told the Ham&High.

“They say well maybe we can reopen for Christmas, but if we can’t plan, how are going to do it? How are we going to take the bookings?

“We can’t plan for Christmas and we can’t not plan for Christmas, so in both cases we are stuck. It’s terrible.”

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The government’s furlough scheme, which pays 80% of workers’ salaries up to £2,500, has been extended until December 2.

Ed Robson, who runs the Duke of Hamilton pub in New End, said: “Furlough is great as we can retain our staff, which is a big bonus, but for the business we need our costs covered - it’s as simple as that. Otherwise there’s only a certain amount of time that this can go on for.”

Ed said to close his doors ahead of Christmas was “another blow”, adding: “Looking at next year, January is always a quiet month and you normally use November and December to get you through those leaner months.

“So with the whole of November now wiped out, and this potentially going on longer, it’s very worrying.”

Keith Fawkes, who runs a bookshop in Flask Walk, is another Hampstead business owner whose shop hasn’t previously qualified for grant funding due to the rateable value of his business.

He joined traders’ calls for a clear path out of lockdown and urged greater flexibility this time around to allow his business to operate outside.

KOJO, meanwhile, a new plant-based restaurant in Rosslyn Hill, was set to open at the end of November but has now pushed back its plans.

Co-owner Alina Jones said: “We’ll be ready to go when lockdown is lifted and we’re just taking this extra time for our benefit.”

But Rinaldo, who runs Villa Bianca in Perrin’s Walk, the Coffee Cup and Fish Cafe in Hampstead High Street, and Piccola on Heath Street, feared the worst was to come.

He said: “I really believe that the current crisis is not the real crisis.

“The real crisis will come when shops are able to properly reopen and all the costs start up again - business rates, VAT, PAYE.

“Then the restaurants that are already drowning will not be able to recover because they will have too many repayments.

“If the government doesn’t help them they will collapse and close down.

“They will not only close down but they will be taken over by big corporates and the small ones will go, they’ll give up.”

The lockdown measures are subject to a vote in Parliament on Wednesday.