British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday shelved plans to reopen casinos in England amid fears the UK and the rest of Europe could be witnessing the beginnings of a second wave of the novel coronavirus.
Johnson said it was time to “squeeze the brakes” on a series of phased reopenings of the economy that began June 1.
Casinos had been due to open tomorrow, Saturday, August 1, but will remain in limbo for at least another two weeks. Along with cinemas, bowling alleys, and skating rinks, they were among the final non-essential businesses to get the green light from the government.
But the U-turn and its timing — less than 24 hours before operations were due to restart — will be a huge blow to the casino industry.
COVID Strategy in ‘Disarray’
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) previously railed against the government’s post-lockdown strategy, asking why the casino sector was not allowed to reopen on July 1 along with the rest of the hospitality industry.
On Friday, the council said the strategy was “in disarray.”
We were told that the strategy was to move to regional and local lockdowns. Yet the Government’s announcement today forces all casinos to remain closed,” Michael Dugher, BGC chief executive, said.
“Why, for example, should casinos in Bristol, where there are low recorded cases of COVID, remain closed, when the spikes in COVID are in other parts of the country? It is also the case that the new restrictions are supposed to be focused on households not mixing — not on closing businesses,” he continued.
The UK’s pandemic peaked around April 20, but dropped sharply through May and June, as strict lockdown measures began to take effect. Nevertheless, the country was left with the highest overall death rate in Europe.
Cusp of Second Wave?
But the coronavirus is on the rise again across the continent. Johnson said Friday that around one in 1,500 UK residents now has the virus — that’s compared to one in 1,800 on July 15, and one in 2,000 on July 2.
According to the Office for National Statistics, there are now 4,900 new infections every day, up from around 3,000 a day on July 14, and 2,000 a day at the end of June. Spikes are currently focused in the northwest of England, which wasn’t hit as hard as London and the south during the height of the pandemic.
In a public address, Johnson reiterated that the plan to reopen society and the economy had been conditional on “beating the virus.”
“We had hoped to reopen a number of the higher-risk settings [August 1] that had remained closed, and today I’m saying we’re postponing those changes for at least a fortnight,” the Prime Minister said. “This is how we will avoid a return to full national lockdown.”
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