BARNSLEY must move out of the government’s harshest coronavirus restrictions as soon as possible if its cash-strapped hospitality trade is to make any form of recovery, leaders in the town have warned.
The national lockdown, which officially ends on Wednesday, will be replaced by a tiered system and it was announced yesterday that Barnsley will be in tier three - the government’s strictest bracket - for a minimum of two weeks.
Non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen but the town’s hospitality sector - which includes pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants - will remain closed and likely miss out on the lucrative Christmas trade landlords had been banking on.
Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis, who is also Mayor of Sheffield City Region, told the Chronicle it was imperative ministers - who excluded local leaders from the decision-making process - had a clear exit strategy to protect at-risk livelihoods.
“As we exit the national lockdown, the government has once again put us into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, tier three,” he added.
“We now need them to work with us to make sure we do not stay there a moment longer than necessary, so that our businesses and people get the help they need to get through the pandemic.
“We’ve been under tighter restrictions since October 24, and they are slowly suffocating businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector.
“They’re now being hit again just as they enter their busiest time of year.
“Any restrictions must come hand-in-hand with a robust package of economic support to protect livelihoods. There must be no gaps in support for people and businesses affected by coronavirus.
“It is now essential we get a roadmap to get us out of the tier as a matter of urgency - lockdown must not become limbo.”
Cash-strapped pub landlords who had hopes on boosting their coffers over the festive period warned Barnsley risks losing many of its popular drinking haunts for good - unless the town’s tough restrictions are eased soon.
Having already missed the summer trade, the lucrative Christmas period was ‘vital’ due to its traditionally busy nights including so-called Mad Friday, Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, but it’s unlikely the sector will reopen in time.
Dave Clayton, owner of The Soho Music Institute on Shambles Street in the town centre, said: “Many will now throw in the towel as it’s impossible to turn a profit.
“Owners have done everything they can to protect their customers but this decision will result in closures - we’re constantly up against it.
“What’s really sad is the fact that many elderly people use Barnsley’s pubs to meet their mates and they’re unable to do that, so while it’s been costly to landlords it’s a tragedy that loneliness will rise as a result.”
Although figures show positive coronavirus cases have been falling every day in the borough since November 11, more than 50 Barnsley residents died from coronavirus in the first two weeks of this month in what was one of the worst periods since the pandemic struck in March.
The town had 32 related deaths in the week up to November 13 and 20 in the previous week.
The release of the figures came in the same week that the total number of Barnsley’s positive cases surpassed 10,000 - 2,800 of which have been new this month.
Barnsley Council leader Sir Steve Houghton said: “On Wednesday we will be in tier three and that’s because coronavirus levels in Barnsley are still high compared to rest of the country.
“The good news is that those levels are starting to reduce and we want to keep that way, so at some point in the future we can get out of tier three, down into tier two and so on.
“However, in order to do that it’s important we all follow the rules, keep safe and keep our distance, making sure we don’t do anything that can lead the virus to increase again.
“It’s also important that we continue to support businesses and that people work with the council to make sure Barnsley comes through this.
“We know it’s difficult, but it’s good numbers are starting to drop and there is light at the end of the tunnel.”