Wetherspoon's first-quarter sales slump on fresh COVID-19 curbs

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(Reuters) - British pub operator J D Wetherspoon JDW.L posted lower sales on Wednesday for the first quarter of its new financial year, hit by fresh coronavirus restrictions, including changes in tier categories and a 10pm curfew.

The company, whose chairman Tim Martin has been an outspoken critic of coronavirus restrictions, reported sales down 27.6% in the 15 weeks ended Nov. 8.

Trade in Wetherspoon and other hospitality firms had picked up after a slow start when pubs re-opened in July. But the government last month imposed a second national lockdown, which includes shutting down all restaurants and pubs for four weeks across England, in a bid to control a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

The pandemic-hit hospitality industry has laid off thousands of workers, with Wetherspoon cutting jobs at its head office and airport pubs.

Martin, who had last week accused the government of panicking and “shooting from the hip” with the new restrictions, said on Wednesday “the constantly changing national and local regulations ... are baffling and confusing”.

The company said 756 of its pubs in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are closed, while 64 pubs in Scotland and 51 in Wales are currently open.

Wetherspoon, which had been selling pints for cut-price 99 pence to drain stocks before the lockdown, said it expects its cash burn during the month of closure to be about 14 million pounds .

Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips