Shares in UK hospitality and travel-focused companies have dipped today, as people are urged to be cautious as pandemic restrictions are lifted.
Restaurant Group, which owns Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s, has fallen by 5% so far today, while food operator SSP Group (who run Upper Crust and Ritazza outlets at airports and railway stations) are down 3.5%. WH Smiths, which runs outlets at travel hubs, are 3.3% lower.
Mitchells & Butler, which operates the All Bar One, Harvester and Toby Carvery chains, are down 2.3%, are are fellow pub chain JD Wetherspoon.
Whitbread, which runs the Beefeater and Brewers Fayre restaurants as well as Premier Inns hotels, has slipped by 1.7%. Holiday Inns owner InterContinental (-1%) is also lower.
Today’s rule changes mean that, in England, groups of six people or two households can meet indoors in homes, pubs, cafes and restaurants for the first time since last autumn. Rules also also being relaxed in Wales and most of Scotland.
But several medical and health experts have advised people to keep meeting outside for the time being, due to the risk posed by the Covid-19 variant first detected in India.
As my colleagues Denis Campbell and Jessica Elgot report.
A former government chief scientific adviser, a leading public health specialist and the union representing Britain’s doctors are urging the public to stick to meeting outdoors to reduce the risk of catching or spreading the variant.
Prof Sir Mark Walport, a former director of the Wellcome Trust and a chief scientific adviser until 2017, called on the public to be cautious. “My personal judgement is that I will do things outside as far as possible,” he said. “My advice is that just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should.”
The ban on overseas leisure travel is also being lifted, replaced by the new ‘traffic light’ system in which travelers from ‘green’, or lower risk, countries won’t need to quarantine.
Health secretary Matt Hancock warned yesterday that people should still avoid travel to countries on the ‘amber’ list (which include France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the United States, and many other major holiday destinations…)
He told Times Radio:
The red and amber list countries are places that you shouldn’t go to unless you have an absolutely compelling reason,
Jet engine maker, and servicer, Rolls-Royce is the top faller on the FTSE 100, down 3.4%.
Budget airline easyJet has slipped by 1%, even though it’s now flying passengers to ‘green list’ countries like Portugal from today.
Hancock also didn’t rule out imposing local lockdown restrictions in places worst affected by the Indian variant of coronavirus. And overnight, prime minister Boris Johnson said people should take this next step “with a heavy dose of caution”, saying:
I urge everyone to be cautious and take responsibility when enjoying new freedoms today in order to keep the virus at bay.
Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, points out that hospitality companies have been hoping for sales to pick up as indoor dining is allowed:
It’s a big day for many businesses as the UK lifts more Covid-related restrictions. This should have been cause for celebration, but all eyes are on the Indian variant and whether the Government is going to impose new lockdowns, be it localised or national,” says
“Businesses will have to make hay while the sun shines, albeit interspersed by lots of dark clouds.
“Hospitality companies will be hoping that their doors stay open from today and not have a repeat of the stop-start cycle they’ve had to endure over the past year and a bit.
It’s also an important day for the airline sector, he adds:
“Airlines are also at a major turning point today as restrictions ease slightly. They are doing everything they can to cater for demand within the still-tight rules and Ryanair implies that customer appetite for travelling is picking up, judging by its bookings since April.