BOSSES at hospitality venues across Bolton have reacted with relief to the news they can reopen from Saturday.

Three weeks ago extra restrictions were imposed on the borough amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases.

Yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced lockdown rules in Bolton would be realigned with the rest of Greater Manchester meaning businesses can reopen from Saturday but they must provide a table-only service and abide by a 10pm curfew.

Michael Hales, the CEO of Imagine Inns who run the The Railway at Bromley Cross and The Hawthorns at Blackrod, said his establishments ‘were on the brink of closure’ within weeks if the decision to ‘equal up’ the hospitality sector in the borough had not been made.

Mr Hales said the past three weeks had been ‘far worse than the first lockdown’ and he had feared for the jobs of 50 of his employees.

Speaking after the hospitality restrictions were lifted he added: “I’m in the process of contacting my teams and presently it’s all systems go for opening up on Saturday.

“The lack of action and understanding has been staggering. I’ve spoken to many other pub and hospitality people in Bolton recently and all of them said they were on the brink.”

Donna Burrell, who owns Global Interiors in Astley Bridge, home to Salotto Restaurant, launched a petition calling on restrictions to be lifted.

She said: “While I’m happy with this news, I’m deeply concerned for those who haven’t survived this time. The economic impact has been huge.

“I can say we have lost £50,000 during this time. I bet across Bolton over a million pounds has been lost.

“On reflection, I think Bolton has been used as a guinea pig. I think they wanted to close down hospitality in the town to see if it would bring down infection rates.

“All it did was show that people will go elsewhere for a meal out and spread the virus that way.”

Leader of Bolton Council, David Greenhalgh said: “I am delighted that Government has finally listened and realised the disparity and unfairness at the way our hospitality sector in Bolton has been treated.

“I have done my very best to put the pressure on and highlight the inequality and the damage to our economy, to jobs and to local businesses, as I know many restaurateurs and landlords have, and this is now a victory for fairness and common sense, and for all those businesses who lobbied and put the case.

“My first priority is to the residents and businesses of this town, and I will continue to fight for these businesses and for more financial help.

“This is not a sign that COVID has gone away but a move to bring parity and consistency across Greater Manchester.

“We must now work together as one large community to keep our rates down to avoid any further restrictions, follow the guidance and find that balance between containing COVID-19, protect those most vulnerable, and allow our economy to function.

“I thank the many people in Westminster and locally who I have pestered and mithered over the last couple of weeks that have helped to get us to this point today where our hospitality finally has a lifeline.”

Bolton Labour Group leader, Cllr Nick Peel, also urged caution. He said: “The important thing now if hospitality is to open to 10pm is really vigorous enforcement to manage compliance, that has to be the key to it.

“We also need a very effective track and trace system as well as limiting numbers and social distancing.

“This is really important because if it goes pear shaped and there is another spike we are back to square one.”

Mark Logan, MP for Bolton North East, said: “It’s right that ministers have finally listened to our calls to bring Bolton in line with the rest of Greater Manchester.