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UK's FirstGroup uncertain on recovery pace amid new restrictions

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By Reuters
UK's FirstGroup flags uncertainty in recovery pace amid new restrictions
UK's FirstGroup flags uncertainty in recovery pace amid new restrictions   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

-British transport company FirstGroup said on Thursday doubts remain about how quickly it can recover following the new curbs imposed in England to fight off the Omicron variant, with passenger numbers on its buses slipping in recent weeks.

Tougher restrictions in England, including orders to work from home and wear masks in public places were announced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson late on Wednesday, in a blow to some businesses hoping for a Christmas revival.

The company said passenger volumes at its First Bus operations were 71% of its 2019 levels on average in recent weeks, representing a slowdown in the rate of improvement.

FirstGroup, which is now focused solely on running its UK bus and rails after the sale of its North American assets, said it would maintain its 2022 estimates due to the evolving situation despite good performance in the half year ended September.

While total adjusted operating profit in the six months ended September was higher than the lockdown-hit 2020, earnings from continuing operations were down 4% to 51.8 million pounds ($68.37 million), it said.

FirstGroup added that it plans to start paying dividends again within the next 12 months.

($1 = 0.7576 pounds)