Britain’s relaxation of the latest lockdown rules in England cannot come soon enough for the hard-pressed hospitality sector.

Boris Johnson will announce later today that non-essential shops and gyms will be allowed to reopen, while the strict closing times for pubs and restaurants will be eased a little.

Pressure from his own MPs threatening a revolt might have tipped the PM’s hand, but the idea seems to be for as Happy a Christmas and New Year as possible as well as a boost to the flagging economy.

Shares in pub groups Mitchells & Butlers (LON:MAB) rose by 5.7% to 230.5p, the City Pub Group Plc (LON:CPC) by 8.5% to 95.5p and Fullers by 2% to 720p on the possibility of a decent holiday period or a least one not as bad as it might have been.

Economic data today highlighted how the hospitality sector needs a boost with the services sector recording its worst fall since May, according to the latest IHS Markit purchasing managers’ survey.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit, said: “A double-dip is indicated by the November survey data, with lockdown measures once again causing business activity to collapse across large swathes of the economy.

“As expected, hospitality businesses have been the hardest hit, with hotels, bars, restaurants and other consumer-facing service providers reporting the steepest downturns.”

Johnson is expected to replace the national lockdown with a new tiered system though there are concerns that this might end up being even tougher than current restrictions.

Susannah Streeter, at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “It’s feared the new tiers of restrictions which will come into force once lockdown 2 ends, won’t come as much reprieve for the hospitality sector, with tough new rules likely to make it hard for businesses struggling for custom to survive.”

Among the other measures expected to be unveiled by the PM today are an easing of the household distancing restrictions over Christmas with three households allowed to meet over five days between 24-28 December, though full details of these won’t be revealed until tomorrow.

A bright spot today was the release of data from AstraZeneca showing its COVID-19 vaccine works well.

With the equally encouraging if not better results from the rival vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, a vaccination programme might only be months away.

Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, even went as far to suggest that “Sometime after Easter things will be able to start to get back to normal.”

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