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Cambridge’s night-time economy hit by Omicron variant of Covid-19

The night-time economy in Cambridge has been hit by the rise of the Omicron variant - but shopping centres say they have fared better than some others around the country.

Health secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Monday (December 27) there will be no new Covid restrictions imposed in England before the new year begins, but did encourage people to “remain cautious” during celebrations. He recommended partygoers take a test in advance and stay outside where possible to minimise the risk of infection.

Bars have been quieter than usual for the time of the year due to Omicron
Bars have been quieter than usual for the time of the year due to Omicron

In Cambridge, Charles Anderson, owner/director of La Raza and Ta Bouche bar/restaurants, said the impact of Omicron had already been felt.

“At La Raza, over December, at least 60 per cent of our Christmas parties were cancelled, and in that seven to 10-day period before Christmas when people were being careful, people basically weren't coming out. We actually ended up closing La Raza for some of the nights...

“Ta Bouche is drinks-led and wasn't so bad but definitely way down on what we would have expected and what we had in 2019.

“We've just reopened both of them and I think business is still way down on what it would normally be.

“We're hopeful people will start coming out again but time will tell - it's too early to say at the moment.”

The Treasury has announced grants of up to £6,000 for beleaguered hospitality businesses, but the British Chambers of Commerce yesterday (Tuesday) called on the government to extend the business rates relief and the emergency rate of VAT beyond the end of March, and to bring back a “focused” furlough support scheme.

Charles said: "To get furlough back would be the most important for us, because one of our biggest problems is staffing now. We had nine staff members off with Covid just before Christmas as well so it was the perfect storm in many ways.

“A lot of people are asking for continuation or reduced VAT but actually that doesn't help a lot of the pubs or drinks-led businesses because the reduction of VAT is only on food.”

The Grafton centre
The Grafton centre

Meanwhile, industry analyst Springboard said footfall at shopping sites across the UK on Boxing Day was 41 per cent below the 2019 level.

But at The Grafton in Cambridge, centre manager John O'Shea said: "So far the effect of Omicron on the centre has not been too noticeable. We are a local convenient shopping centre, and because people are travelling shorter distances to shop, centres like The Grafton are less affected than regional centres.

“I think people are buying what they need, and they're buying those from local convenient shopping centres. Sales at The Grafton, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, were not as affected by Covid as perhaps we might have imagined a couple of months ago.”

However, Roger Allen, centre manager at Lion Yard, noted: “We keep a daily analysis on the footfall and I’m sad to say that it’s about 36 per cent down against 2019 figures at the moment. Pre-Christmas, we reached about 15 to 18 per cent below 2019 so there has been a definite drop since Boxing Day. But we have to take into account we’ve had more shops close on Boxing Day this year than normal.”

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