Tuesday, 17 March 2020

A case of Corona

We are currently in the midst of a growing crisis caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, which is unprecedented during my lifetime and comparable in many ways to the “Spanish Flu” of 1918-20. It isn’t for me to comment on the wider aspects of this, although it hasn’t stopped half the members of Twitter and Facebook becoming armchair experts overnight.

However, something that is closer to home is the potential impact on the pub and brewing industry. Yesterday, the Prime Minister made an announcement in which he advised people to avoid pubs, clubs and similar social venues, although he did not seek to close them down. Again it is not for me to say whether this is the correct course of action.

But it was immediately criticised from various quarters for leaving the pub trade in limbo, in particular meaning that, in the absence of a specific instruction from government, pubs would not be able to claim against business interruption insurance if they had to close down. This was repeated in a rather hasty press release from CAMRA. It also seems a touch ironic for CAMRA to be actually calling for pubs to be closed down.

Again I am no expert in the field of insurance, but I have to say this immediately struck me as questionable, as pandemics surely fall into the same category of risks as war and nuclear contamination, which are potentially existential perils and thus impossible to insure against on a commercial basis. And indeed this was confirmed this morning by the Association of British Insurers, who I assume do know what they’re talking about.

So the suggestion that pub owners would be better off if the government did force them to close is essentially fake news. Clearly there is a good case for government assistance for this, and other, industries that are suffering from the effects of the virus. But, as long as a pub can continue to trade and make a marginal profit, it makes financial sense to stay open. If, on the other hand, they judge that it isn’t worthwhile, then that decision must be respected.

Our four local family brewers – Holt’s, Hyde’s, Lees and Robinson’s – have all announced this morning that for the time being they are aiming to keep at least their managed pubs open. Robinson’s, for example, said:

Robinsons are keeping their managed houses open, and for the rest of their estate have agreed an immediate four-week rent-free period for all licensees with suspension of loan payments and interest charges where applicable.
I don’t consider myself to be at elevated risk of either transmitting or contracting the disease, and I will certainly continue to go to pubs for as long as I can. If I couldn’t, it would deprive me of a substantial source of social interaction.

If the government did instruct all pubs and bars to close, it would represent a massive escalation of the level of lockdown, and to be even-handed it would surely have to be extended to all other on-premises catering businesses such as restaurants and cafés. There would then inevitably be dog-in-the-manger calls for the prohibition to be extended to what might be seen as competing businesses such as takeaways and sandwich shops. This may have to happen in the coming weeks, but that kind of restriction of everyday life, while manageable in a short-term emergency, would prove difficult to sustain over a prolonged period and would inevitably lead to potentially explosive social tensions.


  1. "...that kind of restriction of everyday life, while manageable in a short-term emergency, would prove difficult to sustain over a prolonged period..."

    Indeed, and that is why I am trying to maintain as close to normal behaviour as I can. Obviously I'm washing my hands and keeping my distance, using contactless payments rather than cash, not shaking hands or hugging, etc. And I've stopped going to football and rugby matches...

    If the government were to order a more drastic closure of normal society, there might be a chance that this could be defeated in maybe four to six weeks. (Look at the Chinese experience.) But the wishy-washy "advice" to stop going to pubs etc will only damage those businesses that are affected and have little to no impact on the progression of the pandemic.

  2. My concern is that thousands of pubs are "on the brink" anyway; as are many small business and that when this pandemic is over, we will be living in a very barren landscape devoid of choice or quality.

    1. Yes, sadly it will almost certainly lead to a lot of pubs and breweries going to the wall. Although, and I know this sounds a touch callous, it may result in the long-heralded shakeout of the microbrewery sector.

  3. Pubs obviously matter to a significant number of people. For some it is their main social life, for others their living. What is crisis reveals is what is really important and sorry guys but in the great scheme of things pubs are not that important. Less important than peoples lives. Business exists to serve peoples needs. People don’t exist to serve business.

    I was in a pub on Saturday. People cough and sneezing into hands. People not washing hands in toilets. Groups blocking bars. Pubs are places people are in close proximity and transmitting viruses.

    I have elderly parents. I will be their main contact with them for the next few weeks. I’m working from home, isolating as best as I can as there are people important to me, so I don’t want to catch something and pass it on. Supporting pubs is way down my list of priorities.

    Hospitality as an industry will survive. Some pubs will, some pubs won’t. I’m sorry for the pubs that don’t. I hope those that lose jobs quickly find others. I hope the looming depression isn’t too bad.

    But I’m going to follow government advice. This country is at a different stage of infection rates to others so it will be different to other countries. This may reveal how prepared or otherwise our health resources are. Government help for business should be welcomed to mitigate the downturn but no government can ensure nobody is out of pocket. We are all going to be.

    If the scientists give Boris 3 paths. A million, half a million or 200 thousand people dead, and he picks the 200 thousand there will be those that condemn him for killing 200 thousand. Of all the world leaders he is secure, is not facing an election, and can let the scientist speak. I’m going to listen.

    I hope you all stay safe and come out the other end of this with you and your family intact. Not everyone will. I hope there’s pubs at the end of it to buy you a pint in.

    1. It's not about "supporting pubs", it's about getting some social contact and avoiding cabin fever. If the time comes when the government does instruct all pubs to close, then so be it. But, as I said in the post, a situation where basically nothing is open but shops selling food isn't sustainable for too long. Maybe best to hold that back for the peak of the epidemic.

  4. A pub in the next village, with a good kitchen, has posted of Facebook that it will do take aways for customers who are a bit scared of going in for a drink or a sit down meal. Restaurants in NYC have been shut down except for take away food and I can see that happening here too.

  5. My experience of pubs over the last few days is that customers have been behaving responsibly by washing hands and not crowding together,so far as possible and subject to your own personal circumstances, I would encourage visits to continue,good luck everybody and stay healthy

  6. "CAMRA calling for pubs to be shut down" odd, but I've read that press release several times now and I cannot see where it says that.

    1. The press release says: "The lack of decisive instruction from the Government leaves pubs in a limbo where customers will abandon them, but they’ll be unable to claim insurance or other support to help them survive."

      This to my mind clearly implies that it would be better for pubs to be given a "decisive instruction" from the Government to close, so that they could then claim on their insurance, which as stated in my post they wouldn't be able to anyway.

    2. Dear Curmudgeon

      The solution to the pub problem is simple: repeal the smoking ban and let the beer drinking smokers come. They can self-medicate while supporting a vital sector of society.




  7. I thought Protz was a Marxist? Doesn't he like the state now making big decisions on behalf of his so-called hospitality sector. Fucking commin twat!

  8. Professor Pie-Tin21 March 2020 at 11:24

    Here in Ireland pubs have been shuttered since last Sunday.
    Legally there is nothing to stop them opening but dire warnings of the cops objecting to their next licence renewal has had its effect, although overnight one pub in remote West Cork was raided and a few locals found hiding in the storeroom.
    The owner of my local is sanguine about it all - Diageo has promised to replace all stock for free when they re-open and I presume other brewers will follow although for the smaller craft breweries this virus could be the end of them.
    There is nothing like the level of support for businesses and employees that have been announced in the UK this week.
    The streets are mostly deserted apart from dog walkers but supermarkets are open and full of food and drink and mountains of bog rolls everywhere.
    For the first few days after the youngest son escaped that there London for home we horsed into the booze most afternoons but I've introduced a strict 5pm watershed for the first snifter.
    The only other news to relate is that I bought a six-pack of the C&C Irish-brewed Bass and let me tell you it was six cans too many.
    Jaysus it was dreadful.

  9. Pubs closed in England 20th March 2020: All of them.

  10. How is everyone getting on with the pubs shut? Or should I not be thinking about such a trivial matter in these worrying times?

    1. I think people will get increasingly fed up as time wears on.

      I did consider writing a post on the implications for the pub and brewing industry, but until we've obviously turned the corner it seems inappropriate. The latest figures are horrifying :-(


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