Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Making a rod for your own back?

Although we in the United Kingdom are still awaiting any kind of official announcement, countries around the world are now publishing their programmes for the progressive relaxation of the coronavirus lockdown. Last week it was the turn of Ireland, which has many economic and social similarities. Their lockdown was somewhat more severe than ours, particularly in terms of travel restrictions, and they are proceeding very cautiously, and certainly much more slowly than the Czech Republic, which I reported on a couple of weeks ago. However, arguably any light at the end of the tunnel is better than none, as the sheer uncertainty of its duration has for many been the most stressful aspect of the lockdown.

It is noticeable that pubs and bars will be right at the back of the queue, not being allowed to reopen until August 10th, while restaurants will be able to trade from June 29th. As I have set out it in the past, it’s very doubtful whether such a distinction would be workable in this country, where many pubs effectively trade as restaurants, and many restaurants have identical licences and planning status to pubs.

However, the trade bodies representing Irish pubs have written to the government proposing a set of measures that would allow some pubs at least to open six weeks earlier, as set about below:

At first sight, this seems to strip pubs of most of what makes them attractive in the first place, and has been pooh-poohed by many in the trade in this country. However, they could well be workable for many food-oriented establishments, and for Wetherspoons, who already have a remote ordering app and table service in place ready to go. Surely some pubs being able to open is better than none at all.

On the other hand, there must be a risk that such restrictions, if they prove workable for some pubs, will be kept in place for much longer than six weeks, thus ending up delaying, or even permanently preventing, the remainder from reopening. And there is a question mark as to what extent the trade should get involved in devising restrictive regimes to operate within. Wouldn’t it be better to await government proposals and then respond to them? As I have said before in connection with the Portman Group’s heavy-handed approach to advertising regulation, “If you’re going to be crucified anyway, it’s little consolation that you’ve been allowed to build your own cross.”

Some in the British pub trade seem to have reacted to the lockdown simply by wringing their hands and saying it’s all too difficult. But pubs are going to reopen eventually and, being realistic, it’s highly likely that initially they will have to operate under some restrictions, so it makes sense to plan for that rather than dismissing it out of hand.

It’s hard to see any pubs – or restaurants – being workable under the strict social distancing guidelines currently in operation. But the two-metre rule was something plucked out of the air, rather like five-a-day and fourteen alcohol units per week. It perhaps served an initial purpose, but it’s not really a sensible yardstick to use going forward.

It’s not difficult to envisage a somewhat relaxed social distancing environment under which pubs were required to operate for a period, including measures such as an overall capacity restriction, no standing at the bar (and possibly a post office-style queue for ordering), no more than four people at a table and groups required to be at least a yard apart. Presumably by this time relatives living in different households, and friends, will be allowed to meet socially in small numbers. The issue of toilets which is often raised is a red herring – the risk of transmission from very fleeting proximity is negligible, and no more than that from passing in a supermarket aisle.

And I have to say that in many of my local pubs, at lunchtimes when there’s no football being shown, it wouldn’t really be too difficult for the customers to keep six feet apart anyway.

41 comments:

  1. Short term adaptations are possible,including replacing the door mounted camera with a temperature sensitive camera,spit screening at the bar,using a coffee shop style service system with a queue at one end of the bar and a collection point at the other end,plentiful supplies of sanitiser and contactless payment (the unbanked can buy pre loaded cards) All of the above will only work with some relaxation of social distancing rules which I agree are arbitrary and appear to be based on advice given by experts who sometimes disregard their own rules. The public are pretty good at self policing and whilst not a perfect solution it would at least allow premises the opportunity to open.

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  2. If only Spoons opens, I'll have to buy a new phone. Timbo's updated app doesn't work on my 4 year old Samsung J5.

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    1. Spoons can shut permanently as far as I'm co concerned.

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  3. I'm not that desperate to get back into a pub, I go to relax and enjoy it, not be made to feel like a trespasser or a leper. They can forget it if there's silly rules like this.

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    1. The rules wouldn't be the pubs' fault. I'd go back to the pubs in a flash even if these rules were in place. You've got to show your support.

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  4. "the door mounted camera" must have missed those in most of the pubs I use!

    "experts who sometimes disregard their own rules" does that make the rules wrong?

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    1. CCTV systems are a mandatory licensing condition and the system generally includes a camera at the door. If an expert has been responsible for providing advice which leads to the adoption of rules then the failure of the expert to abide by the rules suggests that the expert holds the rules in contempt and therefore the quality of the advice which led to the adoption of the rules has to be called into question,the short answer is therefore that the rules were wrong.

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  5. The Dangerman6 May 2020 at 19:41

    As you may have seen on Twitter, I think the trade should open at the first opportunity they can do so profitably. It's a foot in the door and assuming there's no huge second spike we'll slowly get back to normal. Of course what actually happens behind the doors of the pub will likely be somewhat laxer than the official rules and so I doubt it would be quite as sterile as some people fear.

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  6. its not the issue of proximity in the toilets so much, though youd have to limit numbers using them at the same time to try and maintain some social distancing and how do you really enforce that,the issue is that any surface, handle, tap anything anyone who is infectious sneezes/coughs or even touches potentially then becomes an instant risk of transmission point to anyone not infected who then interacts with the same surface.

    Basically you have to assume everyone you interact with is a carrier that can infect you or can have touched something you can touch to get the virus from, that makes pubs/restaurants really difficult to pull out of lockdown, since they are designed as social places for people to interact and spend alot of close time together, supermarkets for the most part arent designed to be social places you get in and you get out as quick as you can in the current environment and even then I do know people who have only been going out to supermarkets shopping in the past 5weeks and still ended up in hospital with this virus somehow.

    and what happens if someone does then identify the pub as their infection point, does the pub then get shut for a deep clean, do all the customers staff who were there at the time have to be tested to prove they havent got it, it could get really complicated and messy and litigous and to be honest Im not convinced even now theres a great clamouring even for pub regulars for pubs to reopen under any conditions.

    Even in the last week or so before lockdown, when we were trying to keep calm and carry on, I cant say I enjoyed being in the pubs in those cases and I reckon alot of people will think the same at the moment, you just have to watch how people are behaving in supermarkets at the moment to see alot of people are nervous and worried they are just being around other people, I cant imagine even if the pubs reopened with whatever restrictions get put on them, right now at this time there wont be enough trade to pay to keep them going.

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    1. Thankfully it's absolutely impossible to identify anywhere as an infection point. Given the wide variation in incubation times it's not even feasible to make an educated guess, even if you've been isolated and only visited one business.

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  7. All or nothing for many pubs who couldn't comply with any of this unless they restricted access to around 30 customers, based on seating. The problem is that many would ignore these measures but would quickly attract the usual disproportionate attention the licensed trade attracts from local authorities and the police,

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  8. Interesting views let's see what BJ tells and adapt it .. risks low / medium on a risk assessment low % risk of death high % risk of being in some contact with virus I.m.o

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  9. Professor Pie-Tin7 May 2020 at 05:40

    We've all taken leave of our senses.
    Five years ago 28,000 people died of flu in England that winter.Just in England alone.We
    didn't shut a single pub or destroy our economy.
    This year because some Brexit-hating professor suffering a mid-life crisis with a bleached blond frothy clopper rang alarm bells with some dubious statistical modelling we have literally shat the course as a nation.
    The code used for his modelling is accused of being “amateur hobby coding” that simply doesn’t work, by Sue Denim - a senior Google coder with 30 yrs experience in the field.
    I didn't understand half of what she wrote but my computer science graduate son did - " basically she's saying he's a wanker,Dad " was what he concluded.

    https://lockdownsceptics.org/code-review-of-fergusons-model/

    People often wonder how Germans were so easily hoodwinked by the Nazis.
    Yet in just six weeks we've had people threatened with arrest for having a barbecue in their front garden.
    And yokels in Cornwall sharpening their pitchforks to scare off the rich second home owners who in good times prevent their county from becoming a Glaswegian shit-hole.
    Meanwhile the BBC's flagship current affairs programme carried a lengthy discussion this week on the sociological significance of the bookshelves featured behind Zoom contributors to other current affairs and news programmes.
    Newsnight has become Love Island for pompous dickheads.
    And have you been to a hospital lately? They're empty.Wards completely devoid of cancer patients or people recovering from life-saving operations.Bored nurses tik-toking shapes instead of emptying bed pans and wiping arses.
    All because we were scared shitless by a virus spread by some Chinaman shoving a live bat up his jacksie or whatever it is those oriental Neanderthals do for enjoyment.
    I wouldn't hold your hopes out for pubs re-opening.We'll all be impaled on the second spike by then - 60 million people paying the price for a few thousand more old codgers with bad health dying than normal.
    Speaking as an old codger myself I'm happy to take the risk of a few pints in my local - it can't be any more dangerous than going to my local German supermarket for cheap gin.



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    1. Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring :
      There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

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  10. Professor Pie-Tin7 May 2020 at 10:05

    And on these broad shoulders rests the responsibility for the biggest economic downturn since 1706.
    I test my 'effing case.

    https://mobile.twitter.com/Mr_Trubshawe/status/1257956551136088066

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  11. Professor Pie-Tin7 May 2020 at 11:00

    Apologies.
    I was foaming at the mouth so much I posted the wrong info.

    https://twitter.com/Mr_Trubshawe/status/1257956551136088066

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    1. Don't say you're on Twitter, Prof!

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    2. Professor Pie-Tin7 May 2020 at 13:50

      Never been on social media Mudge.
      I read it though just to confirm why I never joined it.
      I reckoned long ago that me and social media would be a toxic mix doomed to failure.

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  12. Thinking of my local pubs, I feel that the proposed 'Irish Rules' would make it uneconomic for half to re-open (two out of four), although one of those seems to be trying to become a restaurant anyway so may return but not as a pub. The Wetherspoon is probably best placed given that it is only at very busy times that people drink at the bar anyway. Table service would also be a bonus - I don't think that I've ever seen in Germany the sort of uncivilised scrum that can develop around English bars. It would need adequate staffing to work, a concept hat might be new to a number of pub operators. A much reduced product range, such as two ales and one lager, would make matters more efficient - many of us are old enough to remember when something close to this was the norm and if you didn't like that pub's beer, you went to another.

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    1. Some older pubs still have bell-pushes around the walls reflecting the days, certainly before my drinking career started, when waiter service was the norm on the "best" side.

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    2. I can remember in the early seventies we used to go to a pub in Manchester on Friday night which had those bells working. Young George - aged 70+ -, white towel over his arm, used to bring us our beer on a tray.

      Inadequate staffing is not unique to pubs. It is the norm across the retail and service sectors. Most consumers are willing to suffer excruciating service in order to save a few pennies.

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    3. I remember being in a pub in Hexham where those bell pushes still worked and a lovely barmaid brought the beer to the table. This was 1983 and a massive novelty to us young 'uns.

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    4. Some round pub tables have a bell push in the centre.

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    5. The Low Lights Tavern in North Shields still has some of the buttons in what used to be the Owners and Skippers room - where they could drink and discuss their business away from deckhands and filleters.

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    6. Not sure if it's still there, but there used to be a round table with a bell-push in the centre in the snug of the Arden Arms in Stockport. My local, the Nursery in Heaton Norris, still has bell-pushes round the walls of the lounge and erstwhile smoke room.

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  13. Professor Pie-Tin7 May 2020 at 21:48

    That's the bizarre thing about this pandemic nonsense where life goes on even when it doesn't.
    My world is at a standstill yet in the space of an hour today 20 lires of Somerset cider and a box of Cuban cigars from Belgium arrived within the space of an hour at my front door and I was soon sampling both sat in the late afternoon sunshine.
    And I live in the arse-end of nowhere in lockdown Ireland.
    Yet knobheads are spending silly money on a black market haircut and thinking this is just like how it must have been in the Blitz when actually people then ate in a day what these tossers would consider an amuse-bouche in a restaurant.
    Okay,I admit it.I'm starting to rant.

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    1. It's noticeable how innovative businesses are finding ways to get round the lockdown restrictions as far as they're legally permitted to.

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  14. That would be the death of my local, it's far too thin to be able to let over 10 customers in, and it's not a Micro-pub. I think Retired Martin knows where I'm on about.

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  15. As I mentioned on Tand's blog, everyone is focused on how pubs could cope with customers being socially distanced. The key problem is how staff are going to manage to distance themselves from each other and customers, serve beer, touch tills, card machines, cash, etc, and the answer is that in most cases they won't be able to.

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    1. Spit screens at the bar and changing ordering systems,such as using the coffee shop system of ordering and collection can help as can regular hand washing,however,at the end of the day staff and customers are going to have to undertaken their own assessment of the risks to them,which can vary from individual to individual,in working in or visiting a pub. The alternative is no pubs and no jobs.

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    2. "Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome." - Dr. Samuel Johnson

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    3. "Unless every possible event is considered and incorporated in the mission plan, then that mission is destined to fail" - Eugene Krantz (NASA Chief Flight Director) :-)

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    4. "No plan survives first contact with the enemy." (Helmuth von Moltke).

      But reopening pubs is not like planning a moon landing. If you want to make sure every single risk has been eliminated, it will never happen. Maybe that's what you want.

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    5. I don't want to eliminate every risk. Just the major ones, like pubs becoming major breeding grounds for CV19 and delaying its elimination.
      I'll take the risk of falling down stairs, or of a terrorist attack, or of a bad pint in my stride.
      It would be a shame if pubs never reopened but it would not be the end of civilisation. But the unconstrained exponential spread of a virulent pathogen might be.

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    6. If you choose to continue to self-isolate, that's up to you. But tourism and hospitality is the third biggest sector of the economy. Pubs are just a small part of that. If you want that to stay in the deep freeze, you're condemning many others to continued poverty, misery, and ill-health.

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    7. Dead people contribute little to the economy.
      If you throw the tourist industry wide open with the assurance that all is safe you will see another spike in deaths (as is happening in Germany) which really will trash tourism.

      And I doubt that my self isolating will condemn many to poverty misery and ill-health.

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    8. "the unconstrained exponential spread of a virulent pathogen" - with a mortality rate of no more than 1% (and probably rather less). I'm guessing civilization might pull through.

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    9. Nearer 2% according to WHO. 2% of the population of the UK is over 1,000,000 people. A small price to pay in exchange for being able to drink beer in pubs.

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  16. "A much reduced product range, such as two ales and one lager"

    Bring it on !

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    1. Why,all that would achieve is rapid closure and bankruptcy.

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