There has been no evidence to support government suggestions that hospitality is to blame for the rise in coronavirus cases, and therefore the industry should be considered “innocent until proven guilty,” Deltic CEO Peter Marks has told MCA.

So far, the justification for the upcoming limitations on pubs, bars and restaurants has centred on the Prime Minster’s supposition that “the spread of the disease does tend to happen later at night after more alcohol has been consumed,” but the government has not yet produced any substantial data to support this claim.

In fact, the two primary pieces of transmission research currently circulating – a report from Public Health England and a Swiss report into its handling of the crisis – has found that in recent months hospitality spaces have be linked to 5% and 3.5% of coronavirus cases respectively.

Given the apparent disparity in the government’s logic and the evidence that been made available to the wider public, Marks said the industry must take it upon itself to challenge minsters before it’s too late.

“As an operator I would probably find it far easier to accept these draconian measures if I saw proper evidence,” he said. “But there isn’t any, it’s purely hypothetical.

“And if we allow this to go unchallenged, then the public will continue to support Boris’ lockdown.”

With Johnson’s suggestion yesterday that the latest restrictions could be in place for a further six months, Marks said the areas of Deltic’s 53-strong estate that are currently closed by government order will “likely be closed for a year.”

The group was initially planning to open another 14 sites over the next two weeks – having looked at adapting to new models including beer halls and gaming venues – and had already invested in covid security, screens and staff training.

But because of the new guidance it will only be opening one, and a further three will be closed “because they won’t work with the curfew,” he said.

Although he is quietly hopeful that the desire of his prime demographic – 18 to 23-year-olds - to return to nightclubs won’t falter over the next six months or so, he added that a significant challenge for late night operators across the sector will be a long-term change in consumer behaviour.

“That’s something that no other operators will understand because they’ve all been opening in some form,” he said. “But it’s blindingly obvious that if places are shut for that period of time it’s going to cause long-term problems.

“Hospitality is often born out of habit, and when you break the habit it takes time to regain it. If you break that for a year, you can suppose it’s going to take even longer to climb back out of it.”

However, for operators like himself who were “already sinking in the quicksand,” he added that the new restrictions do provide one glimmer of hope.

“I’ve felt quite lonely and like I had been left in a prison cell to rot on my own, but now I’ve been joined by the entire sector once more I feel like we might get heard,” he said.

“There are a lot more people in my prison cell now, and I no longer feel as though I’m in a battle with just a few of us.”