Friday, 26 February 2021

A slow crawl to freedom

The contents of the Prime Minister’s announcement last Monday of the roadmap to unlocking were widely leaked in advance, so none of the contents came as a great surprise. Sometimes, these pronouncements contain some aspect that was rather better than had been trailed, but this was not to be this time, and so the hospitality trade is faced with a painful and glacially slow crawl back to full reopening in four months’ time. Not surprisingly, my Twitter followers weren’t at all impressed. Lord knows who the 8.7% were who responded “too fast”. However, we are where we are, and the pub trade have to make the best of a bad job rather than crying into their beer. The first milestone is on 12 April, no less than seven weeks away from the announcement, when outdoor opening, including off-sales, will be permitted. It is hard to understand why off-sales weren’t allowed earlier, as they continued during the two previous lockdowns. That is still a long wait, and unless significantly more support is forthcoming in next week’s Budget no doubt many more pub operators will give up the ghost. Speaking personally, the thing I’m most looking forward to is a haircut, as I’m increasingly resembling a member of an early 70s prog-rock band!

Towards the end of Lockdown #1, the possibility of outdoor-only opening was mooted, and I wrote here about the issues it raised, an obvious one being the notorious fickleness of the British weather. The Morning Advertiser reports than only 40% of pubs will be able to take advantage, and Sacha Lord, the Greater Manchester night-time economy adviser, makes the point that it represents a kind of class distinction, as urban boozers are much less likely to have extensive beer gardens than dining pubs in leafy suburbs and villages.

This stage will require pubs to operate table service – it certainly won’t just be a case of serving people pints for perpendicular drinking in the street. This makes swift, responsive service a challenge even indoors, and if you’re in the far reaches of an extensive beer garden you may have a long wait for a refill. And customers will still need to go inside to use the toilets, unless pubs install a battery of portaloos in the garden.

The government have indicated that “outdoors” will be defined in the same way as under the smoking regulations, so a covered area with two out of four sides open will be judged acceptable. So we can expect a rush on suppliers of marquees, umbrellas and temporary shelters. Inevitably this will lead to demands for even further restrictions on smokers, ignoring the fact that for thirteen years they were forced to drink outside at times when nobody else wanted to.

The fickleness of the weather will also pose a challenge for selling cask beer, as it will make the level of trade far more variable than normal. A few days of cold, wet weather may leave you with several largely unsold casks, while a heatwave could clear you out. Having said this, if pubs are in a position to make good use of outdoor facilities, as many are, it does present them with an opportunity that they should make the best use of. And a sunny weekend could prove a goldmine.

Then, on 17 May, pubs will allowed to open indoors, but it is important to remember that this will effectively be under last year’s Tier 1 restrictions, with social distancing, table service and mandatory masks. As I wrote at the time, this results in a regimented, cheerless experience that largely destroys the pleasure of the swift, casual pint. A dining pub can cope without too much problem, but many smaller wet-led pubs reported that the atmosphere was totally gone, as was their profitability. When this came in last year, I largely stopped going to pubs, certainly not to make speculative visits, and I doubt I’ll be particularly keen to rush back in May.

We are told that all restrictions will be removed on 21 June, which fortunately is three days before my birthday. But, unless the requirement for masks on public transport is dropped at the same time, my celebratory pub crawl will definitely be confined to Stockport! This will mean that the pub trade has either been shut entirely, or operating under severe limitations, for a full fifteen months. However, this has been portrayed in some quarters as giving the green light to a kind of bacchanalia, so it’s not difficult to imagine the desiccated sociopaths of SAGE having kittens and decreeing that the Tier 1 restrictions need to continue throughout the summer. I’m not making a prediction, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t happen, but don’t say you haven’t been warned!

I have seen talk of this causing a “summer wave”, but surely, given that respiratory viruses always lose their effectiveness in warmer weather, and that by then a large majority of the adult population will have been vaccinated, this is very unlikely. If it does turn out that the impact of the virus has by then become trivial, and we are able to enjoy the second half of the year to the full, then we may look back on the preceding fifteen months as just a bad dream. A successful and prosperous reopening of the economy will erase a lot of bad memories. But only time will tell.

15 comments:

  1. Cartoon world, excellent pic. Meanwhile in our real world the sun is back and we will drink out in it. Sad gov.

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  2. A word of caution. Already the MSM are making great play over figures that show infection rates are rising in 1 5 areas within the UK.

    The government’s latest infection figures, for the seven days up to 21 February, show rising case rates in 95 local council areas. https://uk.news.yahoo.com/covid-cases-rising-areas-jonathan-van-tam-map-174346968.html

    Johnson's favourite health "expert," Professor JVT, said “This is not a good sign and reinforces the fact that I’m afraid this battle at the moment is not won.”

    Yet again the media are swooping on every piece of negative news they can find, and unfortunately this gives further ammunition to the kill-joys and nay-sayers, who would lock us up forever.

    No reasons are put forward for these increases, but could if the figures are correct, might it just be that the population as a whole are thoroughly sick and tired at being told how they should live their lives, where they can and cannot go and who they can and cannot see.

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    1. The increase is more probably due to vaccinated people relaxing their vigilance rather than a mass movement.
      But the purpose of the lockdown is to reduce the number of hospital cases rather than the number of cases so the small rise in total cases is only significant if the cases are serious enough to require hospitalisation. It is also important to know whether the increase is less significant among vaccinated people.
      In the long term, but before we are dead, CV19 will have to be treated as we treat influenza: annual vaccination for the vulnerable

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  3. And now apparently Hancock is saying that he can't rule out a return to the Tier system in England after 21 June. So I'll believe in the full reopening when I see it. But if the fall in daily deaths continues at the same rate as the past week, it will be down to low single figures by then.

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    1. Somewhat predictably, some so-called “expert “ from the SAGE panel, is whining about the discovery of a handful of cases of the “Brazil variant,” in the UK. (Like this was never going to happen?)

      You can just see where this one is heading – a backpedalling on the easing of lockdown restrictions, and a possible return to the failed Tier system.

      Sadly, I won’t be holding my breath about full re-opening of pubs, either.

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    2. Professor Pie-Tin1 March 2021 at 14:17

      I can't work out whether you're being wilfully stupid or just trying to be contentious.
      I'm actually rather grateful that renowned scientists are screening for every new variant of a virus that has killed so many people.
      The Kent variant has accounted for a quarter of all the UK's deaths despite the country being in lockdown.
      But obviously you're some bloke off the internent with an anti-Brexit axe to grind against Boris and his team of advisers so it must be right ...

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    3. All viruses naturally mutate over time, and SARS-CoV-2, is no exception. One way or another we're going to have to live with this, rather than run around in a blind panic, every time a new variant, rears its ugly head.

      Our economy has taken a massive hit, so we can't keep people locked up forever, no matter what renowned scientists might say.

      I've spent a lifetime working in science, but I don't expect someone who's made a name for himself being deliberately provocative and objectionable, to believe me.

      So, nothing to do with Brexit, and nothing to do with being "some bloke off the internet." Just an ordinary human being trying to be objective and inject some common sense into the madness that it the world today.

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  4. Professor Pie-Tin1 March 2021 at 12:14

    My flying visit to the Uk for a Covid jab thankfully went like clockwork at the weekend.
    Arrived at Heathrow on Friday and immediately took a PCR test at the airport for the return journey. ( ExpressTest £80 )
    Jabbed at my local GP Vax Centre on Saturday when the negative test result also came through in the afternoon allowing me to catch a flight home on Sunday.
    Magnificent logistical operation by Boris and his team and the fantastic NHS to enable me to be among the 20 million people jabbed by the end of the weekend.
    One elderly lady was in tears of relief aftewards - she had been virtually housebound for months in fear of the virus.
    The UK has every reason to be proud of its vaccination programme.

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  5. I do not believe that taking steps to identify new variants of a virus and the extent of their spread is acting in a blind panic. Such steps are necessary when living with a virus and deciding whether modified vaccines are required. The steps taken to release restrictions are at present appropriate however should the evidence suggest that it is possible to do so in the future there is no reason why the process cannot be speeded up.

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    1. Apologies for trivialising the potential threat from new Corona variants, John. It's the media that should have been the target of my ire, rather than the scientists.

      Having said that, there does seem to be a publicity seeking element amongst the scientific community, whose opinions, however sincere, aren't exactly helping.

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    2. Of course any new variants identified should receive a proper scientific assessment, but the media, egged on by politicians and no doubt some self-important scientists, seem to be using them to perpetuate a continued climate of fear.

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    3. Professor Pie-Tin3 March 2021 at 16:08

      Not sure a relative of someone who has died from Covid-19, particularly via the Kent variant since Christmas, would call it a climate of fear.
      And blaming the media is the spoofer's way out.
      Government press conferences addressed by Whitty and JVT are broadcast live so it's fairly difficult to misinterpret their exact words.

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  6. Replies
    1. Well thought out, and well presented article. Thanks for sharing, Mudge.

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  7. Professor Pie-Tin10 March 2021 at 08:38

    Appalled at the rising price of "fancy" light tonic water from Feavertree I noticed that both Aldi and Lidl are doing knock-off versions at about a third of the price.
    So last night Mrs Professor Pie-Tin and I road-tested all three versions plus old standby Slimline Schweppes.
    Verdict - bugger all difference.
    This also updates another road-test we did last week between Gordon's Gin (€30 )and Aldi and Lidl gin at around €12 each.
    Verdict - Aldi gin the clear winner.
    So, we have come to the conclusion that Aldi Gin and their tonic or that from Lidl is both the cheapest and tastiest way to get pissed on gin when you're bored during Lockdown.
    Although the absolute cheapest is with a £10 bottle of Duty Free Gordons purchased a week ago in LHR on the way back to Ireland.Now that was a Brexit bonus.
    It confirms our suspicions back in the good old days when people could drink in a pub and we watched punters, usually women, buy top-end designer craft gin, top-price Feavertree tonic and then squeal with pleasure as all sorts of compost heap junk like cinammon twigs, lemon, orange skin,juniper berries and the like were tipped into the bowl glass - thus negating the effort that had gone into the posh booze and mixer.
    We have also discovered, by the by, that Lidl do a very good 3-year-old blended Scotch which is really rather nice.
    Not long now before we segue seamlessly into tequila margaritas as sitting-outside weather approaches.
    Drinking and not getting out of bed until after midday have helped us through this frightful business enormously.

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