Friday, 3 December 2021

Collateral damage

It was dismaying, although perhaps hardly surprising, when Boris Johnson announced last Saturday teatime that some Covid restrictions would be reimposed to deal with the supposed threat from the Omicron variant. Chief amongst these were the tightening of self-isolation rules and the return of mandatory mask wearing in shops and on public transport.

While hospitality was not directly affected (for now) there was a pretty immediate impact in terms of cancelled bookings. It must be remembered that organised parties over the Festive season represent a major part of the annual revenue for many pubs and restaurants. The BBC reports here one restaurant owner saying:

We had 20 cancellations over the weekend, mostly for Christmas parties. Customers were phoning to tell us they weren't sure what was going to happen in a few weeks so they'd rather cancel now.
And Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord reports on a “catastrophic” wave of cancellations: Here’s one very specific example: While people may grudgingly put up with wearing masks when going to the supermarket, for many they are a major deterrent to discretionary leisure activities such as shopping and travel. A fall in retail footfall in town and city centres in the run-up to Christmas will affect the pubs and restaurants located there. Amazon will once more be laughing all the way to the bank. As stated in this article on the general economic impact of the curbs:
We can also expect railway leisure travel, the only part of rail travel that’s nearly back to pre-pandemic levels, to suffer. Who wants to take a day trip to York or the seaside if it involves wearing a mask for hours on end? And the knock-on effects could be significant: train passengers spend an average of £95 per trip on things like shops, restaurants, hotels and galleries, totalling £133 billion a year.
I’ve made a number of leisure trips by train since the restrictions were lifted in July, but I certainly won’t be making any more until they are removed again. And I’m still some way of recouping the cost of my three-year Senior Railcard.

There is also a wider effect on general confidence. Since the middle of July, there had been a slow and patchy, but noticeable growth of confidence and return to normality in pubs. This has put all that into reverse, and returned us to a state of fear and trepidation about what is going to come next. This was not helped by statements from several official figures that people needed to be very cautious about socialising. This sounded disturbingly close to the messages that were coming out in the week in March last year before the pubs were closed entirely for three and a half months.

A particular example was when government medical adviser Dr Jenny Harries told people that they should only socialise where necessary, however that might be defined. This was quickly contradicted by the Prime Minister, who urged people to continue socialising as normal, but the damage had already been done.

In the succeeding week, there has been plenty of evidence that the Omicron variant is relatively mild, and the return of restrictions might have been an over-reaction. It seems to conform to the general evolutionary path of viruses that they become more transmissible but less severe. Many media commentators going well beyond the usual lockdown sceptics have suggested that it was a step too far, and that we couldn’t live in a permanent state of fear.

The government have stated they will review the restrictions in three weeks’ time, and we can hope that they will rescind them, although such back-tracking would lead to a lot of egg on face. But, even then, it would be just a week before Christmas, and too late to rescue much of the holiday season.

On the other hand, there have been reports that they will continue until March. If this proves to be true , it will mean a very long and hard winter for the pub trade.


  1. I already know a group of "young pensioners" who have moved their annual pints and Chinese buffet back a month to January.

    Maybe this will just smooth the peaks and troughs a bit, and make things even more unpredictable in terms of footfall.

    1. They'll be lucky to be able to do it in January. And most hospitality businesses will be happy to see any kind of peak in December.

  2. Is there a vaccine against this government?.

  3. I've not seen any "evidence that the Omicron variant is relatively mild". I have seen *speculation* and *hope* that it may be mild, and also some concern that there is no evolutional reason that it should be milder than previous versions. If you *know*, or have read, that it is "relatively mild", please give sources, if you don't know, why write such a thing?

    1. The trope that taking precautions against the virus is bad for the economy rathe overlooks the fact that dead people don't spend much money

    2. @dcbwhaley - an argument that rests on the assumption that such precautions are actually effective, and that the benefits will outweigh the costs.

    3. For some reason that doesn't seem to produce a clickable link, but it's here:

    4. Thanks for the link. I don't know what Ground News is, but their report contains a link to something called Medical Daily, and this has a further link to the WHO report itself, dated last Sunday.

      In the paragraph headed Severity of disease the word mild appears only in this sentence: "Initial reported infections were among university students — younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease — but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks."

      Like many others, I very much hope that the disease will start to beome less severe, especially as I don't want to go through another lookdown, and I want to be able to go to the pub! The best way for the disease to cause least disruption is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

  4. My company's Christmas party took place this afternoon. It was most enjoyable and had roughly 95% attendance.

    I also attended the British Guild of Beer Writer's Annual Awards Dinner, in London as night, which was again a really enjoyable evening.

    Called in at a couple of pubs in Whitehall, prior to the event, and they were bursting at the seams, so I'm not sure where the decline in confidence, you report on, is coming from.

    1. The second paragraph, second clause, should have read "in London last night."

      The joys of posting stuff online when your brain's still mildly fuggled!

      I perhaps should also have mentioned that the company asked all attendees to take a lateral flow test, on the morning of the party, although this was voluntary, rather than compulsory.

      This was nothing to do with Omicron but was related to us having an outbreak of Covid, three weeks previously. Six members of staff were affected, all but one of whom had been double jabbed. The un-vaccinated individual was the person who initially shared the virus with the rest of her colleagues and was also the one who experienced the most severe illness.

      The evidence clearly is that whilst the vaccines can’t always prevent infection, they can limit its severity AND make transmission far less likely.

    2. Yes, many events are still taking place, and some pubs, at some times are busy. But the wave of cancellations is all too real, and highly damaging to the trade.

  5. Well, I feel pretty vindicated now in having stated that SAGE and others grossly exaggerated the threat from Omicron, and the imposition of restrictions was an unnecessary over-reaction.


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