Delaying a further relaxation of lockdown restrictions in England a day before they were due to come into effect has been branded “a hammer blow” by the business community.
The postponement means the venues such as bowling alleys and casinos, which were due to reopen on Saturday 1 August will have to wait at least another two weeks.
Small wedding receptions that were to have been permitted will also continue to be banned, while curbs on facial beauty treatments will now remain in place for the time being.
Boris Johnson said the decision to “squeeze that brake pedal” on changes had been taken due to COVID-19 numbers “creeping up” and “in order to keep the virus under control”.
Responding to the announcement, Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “While tackling the public health emergency must be the priority, these announcements – made at short notice – will be a hammer blow to business and consumer confidence at a time when many firms were just starting to get back on their feet.
“Business communities need as much clarity as possible from government if they are to plan ahead and rebuild their operations in the coming months.”
She added: “Ministers must also consider extending support to all firms, many of whom will be forced to close for an even more prolonged period, as well as targeted measures to help businesses placed under localised lockdowns.”
Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said: “This news will come as a real disappointment for some businesses, but firms know that public safety comes first.
“Businesses will continue to do what is necessary to avoid an infection spike.
“Delayed reopening will unfortunately lead to even more financial pressure for some companies.
“So there may yet be a need for more direct support to shore up cash flow, including extended business rates relief.”
Beauty salons were allowed to reopen from 13 July, but only treatments that avoided work directly in front of the face were allowed, such as manicures and leg waxing.
The rules were to be relaxed from 1 August permitting facial treatments, but this has now been stopped.
In a statement, the National Hair and Beauty Federation said: “We are extremely disappointed that this last-minute decision has been made.
“We will continue to push for financial support following this further setback.”
Duncan Garood, chief executive of the leading bowling alley operator, Ten Entertainment Group, told Sky News’ Ian King Live programme: “It’s very disappointing of course but we do really put customer safety first together with that of our teams, and we understand the government has to take difficult decisions based on the science of what’s happening.”
He said staff, who had been “geared up” to reopen in less than 24 hours, were now faced with going back on furlough.
Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses said announcement would come as a “massive blow” to thousands of small firms.
He added: “However, we were warned that restrictions will need to be responsive to any resurgence in transmissions.
“If the rules for businesses are going to be stop-start – which is understandable – then business support from government needs to reflect that fact.
“The job retention scheme, bounce back loan scheme and tax breaks have had a big impact to date, and it would be wrong to wind down support while restrictions are increased.”
Other reopenings which will not take place as planned across England on Saturday include indoor performances and pilots of larger gatherings in sports venues and conference centres.
In a strengthening of precautions, the prime minister also announced face coverings will become mandatory in indoor settings such as museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship from 8 August.