July 4th: UK Independents’ Day?

So there we have it folks, English pubs can re-open from the Fourth of July. You’ve heard it from the man himself (not only that, but apparently our PM will take personal responsibility if there’s a second wave in infections).

What we’ve not heard are many details. The PM has a knack for showing up when there will be applause and adulation, then quickly disappears when it’s time for answering questions and ironing out the finer points. For instance, could he please explain the new socially acceptable distance of ‘one metre plus’?

The only concrete information I heard during Tuesday’s speech is that pubs will be expected to provide table service and to capture their customers’ details as a means of assisting the NHS to contain new outbreaks. Yes, it turns out the UK’s world-beating track & trace system will be magicked out of thin air by its pubs!

Now, while I’ve been single-handedly running a home delivery service and organising collections from our front door for 5 days a week for the last 13 weeks (which for the past few weekends has also involved filling 14 BIBs of cask beer each weekend)…on top of supervising decorators, sound engineers, floor fitters, refrigeration engineers, joiners and handymen carrying out improvement works…all while managing inventory, laying loft insulation, plus ordering (and assembling) an entire set of new furniture…well, you’ll understand why a few things remain on my ‘to do’ list, which now includes figuring out a booking and ordering system in the next 10 days.

We’ve been here before, of course. After weeks of leaks in the press, headline-grabbing announcements are made, stressing that people need to be cautious but ultimately be responsible for their own actions. It’s then left to each organisation or business (first schools, then shops and now pubs) to interpret and enforce the government’s announcements, which tend to follow much later, be vague and end up changing often.

Let’s look again at the PM’s own words as he describes ‘one metre plus’ as being the new gold standard in social distancing [with my comments in brackets]:-

“We are today publishing guidance on how businesses can reduce the risk by taking certain steps to protect workers and customers. [Did I miss this? I don’t recall seeing any guidelines for pubs being published on the day it was promised] [EDIT the guidelines came out well after midnight of the day of the announcement and can be found here]

These include, for instance, avoiding face-to-face seating by changing office layouts, [co-workers can’t face each other across a desk, but pub-goers can gather around a table?]

reducing the number of people in enclosed spaces, [how are pubs meant to gauge this, let alone profit from it…by mapping out the capacity of a room by using something called ‘one metre plus’ as a guideline?]

improving ventilation, [now that I can do, thanks to my extractor fan, no problem]

using protective screens and face coverings, [in the works, my sheets of Perspex arrived this week]

closing non-essential social spaces, [which probably means no snooker tables, no jukeboxes, no fruit machines, no darts…so no problem for a micropub]

providing hand sanitiser [again, in the works]

and changing shift patterns so that staff work in set teams. [this idea had occurred to me and it’s something I will suggest to my team, but for those of you who run a micropub on your own or with a single helper, all I can say is you insist on giving yourselves a couple days off each week to avoid burnout]

And of course, we already mandate face coverings on public transport. [as of June 15th, nearly three months into the lockdown – but who’s going to be wearing face masks while having drinks at the pub?]

Whilst the experts cannot give a precise assessment of how much the risk is reduced [studies show transmission rates can double or even increase tenfold when 2m distancing is halved],

they judge these mitigations would make “1 metre plus” broadly equivalent to the risk at 2 metres if those mitigations are fully implemented.” [again, someone please explain one metre plus to me, plus show me how pubs will be able to fully implement the mitigations outlined above]

Now, I know many of us are gasping for a pint. I know many of us are desperate to open our doors and the taps. But personally I think it’s a bit premature to rush back to normality when there are still nearly 1000 new cases reported each day. And somebody in our government must recognise this, if they feel the need to limit weddings to 30 guests, with no singing allowed.

As for the armchair experts, I was told by someone on Facebook that I should take comfort in the fact that there is on average 1 case per 1700 people. He continued by pointing out that since the largest pub in the country seats 1300 people, we’ll all be fine.

I was also told on Facebook that it’s time to move forward and yes, while there are risks involved in doing so, we’re moving ahead with (in her words) ‘controlled risk.’ Except that’s the point, we aren’t. We’re telling people it’s acceptable again to gather together indoors, without masks, to socialise for hours on end, with reduced social distancing. In other words, we’re being told to ignore every risk-controlling precaution that was imposed on us these past three months.

I understand why people are yearning to break free from these risk-controlling measures, but there is no declaring independence from a disease which still has no vaccine. There’s no guarantee a vaccine would even work. There is no truly effective treatment yet either (steroids help in only a third of cases).

Some will shrug and say it’s not as deadly as feared, but try telling that to anyone who has been suffering relapses for months on end, or to those who end up needing lung transplants. Others will point out that it’s only fatal for people of a certain age or with underlying health conditions, but there’s little to prevent any one of us from unwittingly spreading the disease to persons most at risk from dying of it.

On the topic of risk, this is the most recent advice from ‘MD’, the medical correspondent for Private Eye [again with my comments]:-

“You are safer outdoors. Wind, heat and UV light protect you. [thankfully we have some outdoor space at the bar]

The SARS CoV2 virus is fragile. It breaks up simply by using soap and water. Hand washing is a highly effective weapon. [staff will drilled on this]

Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. [this is where masks come in handy, they keep you from touching your face]

The highest-risk environments are enclosed, with a high density of people. [which is exactly why pubs were always going to be among the last places allowed to open…]

The virus travels in droplets of fluid. A single cough produces 3,000 droplets releasing 200m virus particles at 50mph. Heavier droplets fall to the floor or surfaces. Others travel up to 2m, but if you’re less than 2m away for less than 15 minutes, the risk is low. [staff contact with customers will have to be kept at a minimum and to help with this we’re building a Perspex screen around the bar top]

Successful infection = exposure to virus x time. If in doubt, wear a clean mask and handle it hygienically. Know your numbers. Healthy under 45s are at much less personal risk of harm, even at 1m….” [this is where it gets personal to me]

Never mind the anxieties I feel because of responsibilities to my staff, my customers and by extension their circle of friends and families: I am male, I am a borderline diabetic and I am a couple of years away from turning 50. I will therefore be opening only when I have as many ‘mitigations’ in place as possible. More on what those will be exactly in a future post.

In the meantime take a look at the Hospitality Resource Bank assembled by Manchester’s nighttime tsar. And go buy some masks…and beer!

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