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Are Covid-19 restrictions being lifted too early for small businesses?

3-minute read

Conor Shilling

16 July 2021

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The government has confirmed that ‘Freedom Day’ will go ahead as planned on Monday 19 July.

This means almost all Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted in a bid to boost the economy and allow daily life to return to something closer to normal.

But what do small businesses think about restrictions being lifted at a time when confirmed cases of Covid-19 are still rising?

We recently spoke to over 900 small business owners to find out their thoughts on lifting restrictions, social distancing, and who should take responsibility for the rules being set.

Are restrictions being lifted too soon?

The lifting of restrictions on 19 July means that in the hospitality sector, nightclubs will be able to open for the first time in over a year, while pubs and restaurants will be able to operate at full capacity with fewer rules.

Despite this, over half (53 per cent) of those polled believe social distancing restrictions are being lifted too soon.

Confirmed cases of Covid-19 have continued to rise in recent weeks, exceeding 40,000 on 14 July – the highest figure recorded since mid-January.

This could be why one in 10 small business owners told us they aren’t confident in resuming trading after 19 July.

Will small businesses keep social distancing?

Almost one in three (30 per cent) small businesses told us they will keep social distancing measures and operate at a reduced capacity after Freedom Day.

This echoes the government’s encouragement of people to continue wearing facemasks in crowded indoor spaces and London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s order that facemasks remain compulsory on the London Underground and buses.

What’s more, five other mayors across the country, including Tracy Brabin in West Yorkshire and Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, have called for people to continue wearing face coverings on public transport.

One of the biggest questions now is whether the responsibility for unlocking safely should sit with businesses or the individuals that use them. Almost half (47 per cent) of the business owners we polled feel it should be a shared responsibility.

However, 29 per cent are calling on the government to provide clearer guidelines to help them reopen safely.

The government has published initial guidance on how businesses can operate safely as restrictions are eased, which is due to be updated on 19 July.

Small business owners optimistic about trading levels

Despite the concern over restrictions, many small business owners remain optimistic with 67 per cent feeling confident about trading levels from 19 July onwards.

Our previous research highlighted that 22 per cent of small business owners across the UK were optimistic about life after the pandemic, with ten per cent saying they’d be confident enough to start a new business.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in May, which was the fourth consecutive month of growth.

However, it was down on the 2 per cent growth recorded in April and remains 3.1 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

Download our Covid-19 report for further insight

This article focuses on the lifting of restrictions on 19 July, but you can find out more about the overall impact of the pandemic on small businesses by downloading our report.

Get your free 2021 report on the impact of coronavirus

Download your free in-depth report. Find out more about the cost of coronavirus and overall business confidence.

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What’s it like to launch a small business during a pandemic?

In spite of the government’s Covid-19 restrictions, which have impacted many small businesses, some people have taken the brave step of launching a business during lockdown.

In the three-minute video below, Gary Rourke explains the ups and downs of launching his new business, Rourke’s pie shop, during a challenging period.

"Hopes for Freedom Day are at risk of turning to fears"

Our UK CEO, Alan Thomas, says small businesses have been among the hardest hit by Covid-19 lockdowns and will prove central to our collective economic recovery.

“Small business owners’ hopes for Freedom Day are at risk of turning to fears, with over half of SMEs saying restrictions are being lifted too soon.”

“Given the rising number of cases, it comes as no surprise that there are strong calls for clearer guidance on how to safely manage a full reopening of businesses.”

“Small business owners need clear, consistent guidelines but the onus on personal responsibility breeds confusion. SMEs aren’t public health experts with the ability to gauge the threat of a disease.”

Do you think Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted too early? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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