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New Forest hospitality 'bloodbath' as flood of customers cancel reservations over Omicron fears

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CANCELLATIONS in the run-up to Christmas have been described as a "bloodbath" by a restaurant owner, as customers take precautions amid the rise in the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Shah Malek, who helms Rivaaz in Lymington, revealed that last Friday and Saturday night it suffered the loss of more than 100 bookings, telling the A&T: "Over the weekend it was a bloodbath, to be honest."

Believing it "unfair" to cancel staff shifts over the festive period, he said he would "take the hit", adding: "If I compare it to 2019 then we are 60% down.

Shah Malek from Rivaaz
Shah Malek from Rivaaz

"It is going to cost an awful lot of money," he added. "There was a reasonable chance we would – even after the last year – break even this year. But that’s gone to the wall now."

The New Forest Players amateur dramatics group was also affected, saying it was "deeply saddened" to have to postpone its Robin Hood pantomime at New Milton Memorial Centre.

The government has pledged a £1bn bailout of badly hit industries.

But the chair of the New Forest Business Partnership, which represents over 9,000 firms, Matthew Lawson, said many were experiencing a "worrying reduction" in footfall and an increase in cancellations.

He said. "Local businesses are also being impacted by workers testing positive and having to work from home.

"It’s important to say that it is not all doom and gloom – we have got through this before and we will get through it again. But we all need to rally around and support each other."

Matthew Lawson, chair of the New Forest Business Partnership
Matthew Lawson, chair of the New Forest Business Partnership

More positive was the Chewton Glen Hotel in New Milton, where managing director Andrew Stembridge reported a "degree of caution" among some diners but that cancellations from European visitors had been replaced with UK staycationers.

Garry Baldwin, New Forest Hotels Collection managing director, said "speculation and uncertainty" and government messaging "lacking the clarity we as an industry deserve" had not helped, but firms were continuing to trade in a Covid-secure way.

"All we ask is that guests continue to show the Christmas spirit and warmth our teams will be showing them. We are certainly all in this together and with every part of the hospitality supply chain being impacted, a little understanding goes a long way" Mr Baldwin said.

"There will be a tough time ahead for all, however where possible please do support your local businesses."

Help has been offered by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, including a £1bn bailout giving a one-off £6,000 grant to eligible businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors.

In the New Forest on Tuesday the number of weekly Covid cases reached 1,179 - up on the 1,029 recorded the same time last week. It equates to a rate per 100,000 people of 656.3 – below the UK rate of 716.1.

There were two deaths in the district in the latest weekly update from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), but none in the BCP Council area, which includes Christchurch.

The weekly number of cases in the BCP area rose from 2,480 to 2,932 meaning a rate per 100,000 of 738.6.

The provisional ONS fatality figures related to Covid-19 mentioned on the death certificate up to 10th December but registered up to 18th December.

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