Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Outer Space and Covid-19

Like many in lockdown, I've been reading some ideas that pubs have for safe re-opening. I tend to agree with Mudgie when he wrote here of the dangers of pubs going a little too far in bending over backwards to appease the authorities in the hope of being allowed to open once again. Some suggestions discussed seem wildly impractical and if they were to be implemented, might prove to be a bit of a Trojan Horse for licensees. There can surely be little doubt that the closure of an industry that gives a living to millions and a great deal of pleasure to many, not to mention attracting many visitors to our shores while playing to the heart of Britishness and its traditions, is a massive problem to be dealt with.  It also as a bit of an aside, gives the prohibitionist and their fake charity fronts, a wonderful opportunity to sew division and doubt and create more mischief. They have been quick to put the boot in. Supported by supine and lazy newspapers, repeating the tired old mantra that since closure of pubs, bars and restaurants, we are all drinking more, they have printed a forest of claptrap. Pete Brown has already thoroughly debunked this in an excellent rebuttal filled with facts. All of us in the beer bubble, nodded along happily, but I'm not so sure how widely his piece was reported. These are difficult times.

There is however a bit of a realisation, given the daily increases in unemployment, that just ignoring the hospitality industry isn't really on. The concern must be - and this applies to almost every industry - that the Government furlough scheme, though welcome and needed, is hiding an even bigger potential leap in the already grim unemployment statistics. We are already seeing that there are moves to restart industry and there must be an eye on the nearly three million employed in hospitality and a dread of the situation continuing much longer. But there is that pesky virus to consider.

In that context I've been thinking about my four local pubs. I say "my local pubs" in that these are places that I'm likely to visit, if not every week, certainly several times a month. Three are small and one, while not huge, is mid sized. Thinking abut what could be done, I  recalled that my first ever time in Belgium, many years ago, was around this time of year. In a smallish bar it was rammed, but outside, people were happily standing or sitting, drinking beer and chatting.  As it got quieter I remarked on this to the barman who shrugged and said "it isn't a problem, just put more clothes on". All my local pubs have the potential to spread outside a fair bit.  I know there are by-laws and more, but couldn't these be temporarily repealed to give smaller pubs a chance to trade in a way that would maintain social distancing, would be relatively inexpensive and would give pubs a chance of making a profit?

There will likely have to be other solutions found and this is by no means a magic bullet and goodness knows what we'd do when the heavens opened, but to my mind at least, I can't really see that many pubs at all, never mind small ones, could open profitably with vastly reduced numbers inside under any scheme devised. Maybe some huge ones could, but the bigger the pubs, the bigger the overheads and with a public still scared stiff of disease, not to mention screens, rules and restrictions, how convivial would it be -  and how profitable?

Sadly, whatever ideas come up, mine included, we could all just be pissing in the wind. The truth may well be that for most pubs, it is all or nothing.

You can also read Cookie here. Apart from his tongue in cheek style, he may have a point about just going for it, though how it would be policed, goodness knows, but actually, given the amount of fear around, it may be a self solving problem. 

I really do believe that the double whammy of restrictions and economics will ensure that very few pubs can open profitably unless some better imagination is used. Increased overheads, already small margins and reduced customer footprint doesn't sound like a winning formula to me. 

Image Credit ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2 under Creative Commons


Curmudgeon said...

With strict six-foot social distancing, few if any pubs could trade profitably. There has to be some relaxation of this or reopening is a non-starter.

But you are quite right to point out the wider economic issues. Pubs don't exist in isolation; they are part of the wider hospitality and tourism sector, which is the third biggest in the entire economy. Unless that can be got going again, we will all suffer.

Phil said...

Here's a bit of maths I worked out the other day. Assume that anyone who gets the virus will spread it to precisely two (randomly selected) people, and that anyone who's had the virus can't be infected again. There are 100 people in a group (a small village, maybe). One person gets the virus. How many will have got it before herd immunity kicks in and it stops spreading?

The answer is 86.

Cookie's scenario depends on healthy under-50s merrily spreading the virus to other healthy under-50s - so what if 86% of them do catch it, they won't be badly affected, probably (resists urge to look up horror stories of previously healthy 30-somethings). But I don't know anyone whose social life is so neatly partitioned that they never come into contact with anyone 'vulnerable' - let alone that they never come into contact with anyone who ever comes into contact with... (and repeat).

As far as the economic argument goes, I'd rather be destitute than dead - although I would rather avoid both for the time being.

Cooking Lager said...

Cheers for the link.

The initial reason given for locking the world down was one of managing transmission, flattening a curve and not overwhelming health systems. It appears to be evolving into keeping everything shutdown until a vaccine is found.

I have elderly parents in isolation for 12 weeks and have recently received news of friends recovering from Covid. That one required a ventilator and got one in hospital may indicate the measures have success. Neither were in good health prior to Covid. The NHS was not overwhelmed. Pleasing news of their care and recovery.

But if we accept a vaccine is possibly years away, that for most healthy people there is little danger, that vulnerable people are the ones requiring protecting, shutting the world down is a significant cost paid for by those in no danger from it. A great depression for which a recovery is a generation away. That's a whole lost generation without the prosperity we have come to expect.

Sweden have a different approach currently criticised for a high number of deaths. Their society is now nearing immunity where the low transmission means it will be safe for the vulnerable to come outdoors far sooner than here.

Near the end of the crisis we will be able to measure total mortality and see if overall they did suffer a higher mortality. Many experts expect our flattened curve to produce a similar overall mortality over a longer time to that of Sweden. We may need to have done it our way, but we may not.

I suspect criticism of the UK approach may be in timing the lockdown being lead by public opinion more than reliable statistics and the error of returning elderly patients to care homes.

Whether Sweden had the better method will only be knowable after the event. However Sweden look that they will suffer a recession and not a Great Depression. Unlike us. Their country will return to normal well before ours and is in a better shape to recover. They will have paid a lower price and we will have found out at the end if they get a different result.

Curmudgeon said...

If a large swathe of the population is destitute, it will lead to a lot more deaths than Covid. Lives vs economy is a false dichotomy.

Tandleman said...

Think Cookie's summary is a fair one. Politically acceptable. Not here it seems but in Sweden yes. Time will tell but i reckon i'll bet on Sweden. Economic Depression though is no joke. Unlike Phil I don't think of a binary choice between alive and dead. For most it is far more nuanced than that.

Phil said...

The length of the lockdown is the price we're paying for not starting it much earlier - when 10-20 deaths were being reported every day, not 150 (as on the 23rd of March). As the effect of all the transmission that had already taken place filtered through, deaths rose to over 1,000 a day, and took a lot longer to go down again; the seven-day daily average has only recently come down below 400. Opening up now will inevitably mean another spike in avoidable infections and avoidable deaths - and we've already got the third or fourth highest per capita death toll in the world.

Pubs are great. I miss them a lot. But I think we need to hang on a bit longer.

Fred said...

I am 60-ish, male and obese.
Best mate was also 60-ish, male and obese. but he isn't any more, as he died from Covid-19 last week.
I'll be drinking bottles at home for the foreseeable future. I am desperate to go to the pub and have a decent pint, but the risk is simply too great for me.

Boozy P said...

Not including the Spoons near me, which has little outdoor space but plenty of room inside, I would suggest; if pubs could also spread into their car parks, then about 5 pubs could open, functionally, under the 2 metre ruling.

Given some countries are employing 1.5 and ever 1 metre rules then that simple measure (which seems to be given more credence over everything else) can immediately "double" capcity.

Most pubs in my area have little outdoor space, even if that were to include the pavements outside, and I can imagine the consternation about a move like that.

As regards figures/toll/reactions - it'll be a good few years before this is fully processed as to what is the best approach.

I doubt there will be a vaccine and by a time that there is I doubt we'll need it.

All or nothing. Open fully or don't bother and if people don't come then so be it.

If you're fat and/or old and/or ill then learn to live without or accept the possible risks.

Anonymous said...

saw this
Fill your boots

Anonymous said...

If you're fat and over sixty, then you can stay at home if you wish. That's your choice and you should not seek to enforce an indefinite "living death" on others, who prefer to get out and on with life.

In any event this "epidemic" appears no more of a killer than a seasonal flu and government information has been at best fanciful and at worst outright lies.

Almost certainly, there is another agenda at work here, as you don't trash the economy for a bit of seasonal flu. The outlook seems poor.

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