Wetherspoon's planning to reopen pubs and hotels 'in or around June'

29 April 2020, 19:09

Tim Martin hopes to reopen pubs in or around June
Tim Martin hopes to reopen pubs in or around June. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Wetherspoon's pubs and hotels could reopen "in or around June" despite the UK government having no plans to lift coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

The well-known high street pub chain announced its plans on Wednesday, despite there being no current plans to ease lockdown measures in place because of Covid-19.

Wetherspoon's chairman and founder Tim Martin stated that because his establishments tend to be larger than their rivals they will be able to ensure "social distancing measures apply."

The 65-year-old was forced to close all 900 of his pubs last month when restrictions were introduced and had to furlough 40,000 workers.

In an after-hours stock market announcement, the business said: "The company is likely to make some changes to its operating model, assuming increased social distancing, and anticipates a gradual recovery in customer numbers.

"Wetherspoon pubs are substantially larger than average, and most have outside facilities. The company believes these factors are likely to assist if social distancing measures apply."

Mr Martin revealed the government's business rates holiday measure helped save his firm roughly £60 million. He is now looking for a Bank of England loan for large companies.

However, the loan may not be possible due to Wetherspoon's not being an "investment grade" business on some measures, the company said.

The chain is also seeking around £141 million from shareholders by issuing new shares in a bid to raise funds.

Wetherspoon's said: "The UK Government ordered the closure of pubs on 20 March 2020, from which point the company's sales have been zero."

Mr Martin has previously been highly critical of government-imposed lockdown measures, describing them as "over the top."

Last month he even claimed, "there's hardly been any transmission of the virus within pubs."

Graffiti sprayed on a JD Wetherspoon pub in Crystal Palace, south London
Graffiti sprayed on a JD Wetherspoon pub in Crystal Palace, south London. Picture: PA

Restaurants, bars and pubs were forced to shut their doors on 20 March in order to combat the spread of the disease.

Other establishments, such as nightclubs, theatres, cinemas and gyms, were also told to close "as soon as they possibly can."

As it stands, the government is likely to oppose the reopening of most social venues having so far refused to be drawn into unveiling plans for easing lockdown restrictions.

Ministers fear relaxing the measures could lead to a "real risk" of infections peaking for a second time.

In Germany, there has been a second rise in the rate of infections following the decision to reopen some small businesses, shops and schools.

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It provides a stark warning to the UK, which will likely be monitoring the situation on the continent closely, to be extremely cautious when eventually reopening the country.

Mr Martin previously sparked outrage after saying his workers would only be paid until the moment when pubs and hotels shut.

He advised staff to work at Tesco in the meantime in order to continue earning money.

The 65-year-old later backtracked on his comments following widespread criticism.

He said he will take a 50 per cent voluntary pay cut, along with chief executive John Hutson, while other directors have agreed to similar measures.