MASS pub closures may now be looming, industry members have warned, as Oxfordshire heads into a new tier of Covid-19 restrictions next week.

It was confirmed on Thursday that the entire county will have to endure tier 2 or High Alert rules from Wednesday.

This means that pubs and bars will have to stay shut unless they are 'operating as restaurants', as they will only be able to serve alcohol with ‘substantial meals’.

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According to the Government’s Covid-19 Winter Plan, which was published on Monday, these include ‘a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal’.

The 10pm closing time for hospitality was also changed to last orders at 10pm and closing time at 11pm, which is set to allow customers to leave gradually.

While many rejoiced at the end of lockdown, Dave Richardson, spokesman for the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said the tiered system could be the last nail in the coffin for some venues.

Commenting on the announcement, Mr Richardson said: “The pub industry reckons that more than 70 per cent of pubs will be unviable even in tier 2, with the prospect of many permanent closures looming and the loss of many thousands of jobs and livelihoods.

“Most pubs were experiencing much reduced trade even before the current lockdown, and these latest restrictions mean many owners or tenants of breweries and pub companies will want to give up unless given an immediate package of enhanced support by the Government.

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“We are particularly worried about local pubs that face not being able to open at all under Tier 2 restrictions, as they do not serve food.

“These include our 2020 Pub of the Year winner the Royal Blenheim in Oxford, and our 2019 winner the Masons Arms in Headington Quarry.”

Independent breweries in Oxfordshire, who have also been hit hard during the two lockdowns, also warned of ‘bleak times ahead’ for the industry.

General manager of White Horse Brewery Anneli Baxter said that nearly 90 per cent of its business would vanish as pubs not serving food would be forced to shut.

The brewery in Stanford in the Vale near Faringdon, delivers beer to several popular pubs in Oxford such as the Royal Blenheim, the White Rabbit and the Turf Tavern, and the newly-opened White House pub in Bladon, Woodstock.

Ms Baxter said: “Normally, this time of the year we would be brewing every day but instead, we are brewing once a week and in much smaller quantities.

“Even though pubs can reopen in tier 2 areas, they will have to sell a meal with any alcohol.

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“If there is another lockdown in January, no pubs will actually be opened.

“This will lead to the permanent closure of many pubs and breweries.

“The hospitality industry has invested so much money to make premises Covid-19-free and they cannot even reopen.”

Hook Norton Brewery – which owns 35 pubs as well as operating a brewery dating from 1849 – described Covid-19 as the worst crisis in its history.

The company, based not far from Banbury, is also one of more than 50 signatories of a letter to the Prime Minister warning of huge job losses and pleading to save an industry facing its ‘darkest of moments’.

Other big companies backing the letter include executives at Fuller’s, Carlsberg UK, Greene King, and Heineken UK.

Managing director of Hook Norton James Clarke commented on the restrictions: “We feel that since the start of this, our industry and pubs in particular have done everything that has been asked of them to make and create a safe environment within which people can enjoy the social side of eating and drinking out.

“The hospitality sector has been unfairly targeted with measures that have little or no scientific basis.”