Thursday 18 February 2021

Not Now. But When and How?

 Next Monday the Prime Minister is due to lay out some kind of rough timetable to ease the current lockdown. Much speculation has ensued and in the usual way, there have been what seem to me, placed leaks in the likes of the Daily Mail, hinting at what may or may not be intended. In the case of pubs, kites flying include opening pubs for outside service only and opening pubs for the sale of only non-alcoholic drinks. I won't explore either of these options here, as I do believe that there is on behalf of the Government, a degree of managing expectations, and if enough worse case scenarios are mooted, then what actually happens, no matter how unappealing, will somehow appear acceptable compared to what might have been. The longing for re-opening will inevitably permit a degree of leeway.

There is also clearly, albeit somewhat tardily, a recognition that so much has been over-promised and under-delivered - something almost everyone has complained  about - that the proceeding with a degree of caution penny, has finally dropped. To my mind too, in the case of pubs, there is such a fog of misunderstanding about them within our rulers, that they just don't know what to do.  There is too I feel an inherent distrust of the people - perhaps with the odd justification - as bad behaviour and rule flouting in a few cases is wrongly extrapolated to "all pubs are a hot bed of infection" -  despite there being little by way of actual evidence to support that view.  There also seems to this writer at least, that what happens in London, with its crowded after work scene, spilling onto pavements with no signs of social distancing, is wrongly extrapolated to the rest of the UK, though events in Liverpool pre this lockdown hardly helped.  And let's not go too deeply into the obvious fact, as evidenced by its treatment of them, that the Government just doesn't "get" wet-led pubs.

Looking at where we are now, my best guess is that we are around six weeks away from meaningful relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions. Does that mean good news for pubs? Well, experience would suggest not, but things have changed and continue to change.  Vaccine rollout to all the most vulnerable groups may well be complete before the target date of end of April and all the key age dependent groups will have been covered too. Everyone over 50, or deemed vulnerable should be vaccinated and work started on those under 40.  That is great and way beyond what we could have hoped for only a few short months ago. At the same time, better weather should lessen the amount of infection, as will the increase in those who have antibodies through infection and recovery.  All in all a brighter picture though of course doubts and concerns remain. 

But into each life a little rain must fall.  Until deaths, infections and hospitalizations reach a level that is insignificant, the Government will be very reluctant to go the whole hog.  Hopefully some of their more hare-brained ideas will be ditched though. Apparently the thought processes - yes there was thought oddly - about needing to have a meal with a drink was to stop doltish, irresponsible people going out and getting pissed and then kissing everyone while gobbing Covidly "You're my best mate you". In fact in most cases, it just meant that more affluent  citizens went out for meal and a couple of pints, while those without the ackers, went down the supermarket for a dozen cans of lout at less than half the price, to then drink illicitly with their chums.  The pubs, in the main, lost money operating it.  Frankly it was a laughable policy that helped and suited nobody at all, but that of course doesn't mean it can be entirely ruled out for an unwelcome return. This government has form when it comes to repeating the same process in the hope of a different outcome.

So back to when and how.  Frankly, I don't know. You don't know, and I doubt if the Government knows. My feeling is that as a government that just doesn't trust its people - not unique to the Tories by the way - there will be more than minor inconveniences as we go through re-opening. Some restrictions will remain, whether it is signing in, masks, table service or worse, but the light at the end of the tunnel is there and this time, hopefully it won't be a train coming the other way.

When our beloved pubs re-open, it won't be the end of it though. Lockdown and closure has been devastating for the trade. Many pubs won't ever re-open, or will change hands as the financial toll turns into a grim reckoning. Health worries will remain - see above. Customers will be wary, as will those serving behind the bar. This virus is here for the foreseeable future. It has likely changed us all and those of us that love pubs have a job to do in supporting them.

The bright side is, pubs will be back soon, and we will again remember what makes them so much better than a can or bottle at home. See you at the bar.

Let's hope too, that pubs and of course breweries, get sufficient notice to prepare. Pubs will need cleaning, staff will need training to meet whatever requirements there are, stock will need to be ordered and beer will have to be brewed and conditioned.

One advantage of being old is that I tend to drink in older style pubs. There, most of us will be vaccinated. Don't judge me. I have less of my life left and need that valuable drinking time more than the young do.


The Beer Nut said...

I have to wonder what you think evidence that pubs are a hotbed of infection would look like. The disease has a long asymptomatic lead-in period and pub customers are only on-site for a few hours at a time. Understanding of how the disease spreads will tell you that pubs are a problem, but logic prevents there being numerical evidence. That absolutely does not mean pubs are fine, actually.

Did the UK authorities really say the food requirement was about affecting customers' behaviour inside pubs? I find that very difficult to believe, but would be interested in reading more about it if you have a link.

retiredmartin said...

Superbly written, agree with all that.

"There is such a fog of misunderstanding about them within our rulers, that they just don't know what to do."

Fred said...

Sadly, I cannot see pubs re-opening imminently :-

For what it is worth, my view is mid-May before pubs open. Assuming that nothing goes wrong in the meantime.

Birkonian said...

I'll only be happy to venture inside a pub with strict table service only. There are, unfortunately,too many idiots who consider it their god-given right to be served before everyone else. The last thing I want is to have someone jostling me at the bar, refusing to keep a suitable distance away. Ditto, stools blocking the bar area were always an annoyance. Time to do away with them.

The vertical drinking culture is a danger until the pandemic is over.

Curmudgeon said...

The one thing that can pretty much be guaranteed is that the reopening of hospitality will be slow and grudging. And, if hedged about with too many restrictions, pubs won't be pleasant places to visit, and nor will they be viable.

Tandleman said...

John. Thanks for your remarks.

I don't think I say pubs are fine and in fact, in a later twitter exchange, I agree that one of the points of concern is that the more readily transmissable variants might not be so easily dealt with by existing mitigations. Balanced against that is the huge number of vaccinated cases and the point that Astra Zeneca reckon their vaccine reduces transmission hugely.

But none of this was what the blog piece was about. The point I and most of the trade here make is that there is no evidence to support the supposition, and now you bring it up, I'll offer a counterargument - that is, when the pubs were open here, they were the only part of our society to make an actual effort and put real mitigations in place. While you assume my general point is wrong, there is no evidence either to support yours, but see above for how it might be now - but probably not when in 6 weeks or so, pubs might open on a limited basis.

"Did the UK authorities really say the food requirement was about affecting customers' behaviour inside pubs? I find that very difficult to believe, but would be interested in reading more about it if you have a link."

Well I wonder then why they did it if there was no concern? I understand it was the Chief Medical Officer or someone else on SAGE who was concerned that lowered inhibitions with drinking might subsequently increase social contact and eating a meal would limit this. I could probably find it written somewhere, but then, so could you. My point was really about the Governments mistrust of people and of course, rightly, concerned about the spread of Covid, but not enough to do much about it where the evidence of said spread was most prevalent.

I'll leave it at that I think.

Mudgie. Yes slow and grudging indeed.

The Beer Nut said...

The way I see it, this is not a situation to which an argument from evidence is applicable. It is not possible to observe the virus being transmitted, so there can and never will be statistical evidence of where it happens. Usually, a statement that "there's no evidence of x" means x can be dismissed. The nature of this virus means such an argument does not apply to Covid transmission as relates to indoor venues like pubs. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

And several of the measures taken by UK pubs were hygiene theatre, with no actual effect on transmission.

The meal requirement reduces the number of venues a customer can visit. You often visit several pubs for drinks in the course of an evening; if you have to have a meal, you won't. If a carrier can only visit one pub per session, he'll spread the virus to fewer people.

There's a strange moral aspect that gets attached to viral transmission in the discourse, as though clean and responsible venues with sensible upright patrons are safe, whereas unkempt venues with loud and lary customers are where the infections happen. This is utterly unscientific.

Tandleman said...

Well I'm not a scientist, so I'm surely not expected to write an opinion piece from that point of view? I will observe though, that if there is no point of doing the right things in a pub of distance, hands, sign in, masks etc, then there is no point anywhere.

And I don't seek any moral high ground. As I say in my blog, I think we have a rocky road ahead, but the signs are better.

So, clearly you must read scientific analysis of the situation if that's your criteria, not a blog from a pub deprived old real man. (-;

PS.I think you actually "could" infer from the science that loud and lairy will transmit more than sensible and upright.

Nick said...

Can't imagine Blighty without pubs. Good thing I got out when I did.

Mind you, the gastro trade has been open here in Florida since being shut down for about five weeks last spring, and I've yet to visit a bar since then. They don't do proper cask here, so what's the point?

No alcohol has passed my lips since a last blessed pint o' Pride in the smoke the night before I flew to Washington, 13th Jan 2020. Fittingly, that was the best Pride I've ever had: cool, perfect nick, clean.

A girl bought me an alc-free beer at a corner bar at the beach once last summer, but...meh. Headed to the beach now, 27C & sunny. A bit breezy though. I'll think of you, Cookie, Mudge, Martin, Mr Bell, Preston Matthew, and all my other British chums as my vit D rises.

The Beer Nut said...

"I will observe though, that if there is no point of doing the right things in a pub of distance, hands, sign in, masks etc, then there is no point anywhere."

Well no, that doesn't follow. In a shop, for example, people move around: they don't stay in close contact with the same person for minutes at a time, by and large, the way they would in a pub or theatre. In a shop, in a theatre and on public transport people can wear a mask all the time; they can't do that in a pub or restaurant. The Swiss Cheese Model of Defence means that risk varies depending on what people do in any given setting. In the pub, the cheese is missing layers which exist elsewhere.

Boozy P said...

Drinking alcohol itself is not without risk.

We take risks simply just by existing.

If people wish to stay inside and safe in their own minds then so be it but don't be giving diktats to people, businesses, employees and customers that want the choice or risk.

The government clearly don't wish to unlock until they think they won't be blamed for further deaths. Those that will continually blame them seem to correlate to those happy to stay sheltered indoors.

Some in the beer world seem to come off no better the the petty authoritarians of PHE.

Tandleman said...

Think this calls for a drink. I'm putting the kettle on.

Tandleman said...

Oh and I'm an old real ale man. I wrote an old real man. OK. Both.

Curmudgeon said...

I'd agree that some of the so-called "Covid secure" measures were largely symbolic, but it's hard to argue that the risk of transmission in a packed pub where people are mingling freely is no greater than in one where they are socially distanced.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

It's worth remembering that if it wasn't for some thoughtful government planning early last summer we'd be in the same situation now as Ireland where the chances of wet-led pubs being open by this summer are still remote.
Which would mean they'd have been open for about a fortnight in well over a year.
The one aspect which still puzzles me and my local's guvnor is the insistence for a short period of only 15 people being allowed to drink outside and none inside at all.
It didn't matter whether you had a small patio or a beer garden the size of Wembley Stadium.
It's still a head-scratcher.
At my age - which is pensionable from July onwards - I suspect I'm like Tands in that I back-time life to see how much I have left from that tap on the shoulder from the Grim Reaper.
A year is a bloody long time to lose out on my favourite past-time of standing at a bar talking bollocks.

Tandleman said...

Got that right Prof. The Grim Reaper is never far from my thoughts these days. Standing at the bar talking bollocks put him out of my mind. That's reason enough. (With appropriate care of course.)

The Beer Nut said...

"if each layer removes a percentage of the virus"

You are misreading the diagram. Each layer reduces the probability of virus transfer. It's not meant to represent anything physical. And no, it never reaches 100% certainty, and isn't meant to.

Tandleman said...

Fair points Phil. This isn't easy, but we must move forward.I would never suggest that excessive risk taking is a good idea.

But things are looking better. Vaccination will bring change and enable sensible personal assessment of risk. I agree poorly ventilated places should be avoided. But as the virus will still be around we do have to learn to live with it safely.

Ryan said...

There will of course be some relaxation of restrictions as the year rolls on. However there was a restricted reopening last year, but we still got back to where we are now and where we are now, is a very unpleasant place.

The current crop of vaccines won't provide any long term get out of jail cards for, as surely as night follows day, new Covid variants will happen along. Some variants will require modified vaccines and the reimposition restrictions. What's now left of the hospitality sector will face a very uncertain future and almost certain oblivion over the coming year or so.

Life as we knew it, has gone for good and more especially so for pubs, which have been singled out as an early sacrifice on the Covid altar.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Ryan - I think you're being overly pessmistic.
According to the World Health Organization, over the last week alone new Covid infections have fallen 16 per cent and deaths have fallen 10 per cent across the globe.
In just a single week.
This is the first sustained fall in cases and deaths since the emergence of the virus just over a year ago.
And many countries are still in the early stages of their vaccination programmes before immunity has kicked in in any people other than the very old.
In the UK infections and hospital admissions are plummeting even before the effects of the 15 milllion doses have worked.
I am very optimistic.

Paul Bailey said...

“Life as we knew it, has gone for good.” What pessimistic nonsense Ryan, and are you suggesting that we all give up and continue living our lives shut away from all human contact?

Mankind has survived numerous pandemics in the past, so why should this one be any different? I certainly don’t intend giving up on life, although I am prepared to be patient. I had my first jab a fortnight ago, and am due the second shot at the end of April. Like over 15 million other Brits I’m feeling optimistic about the future and the eventual return of pubs, and if new variants do come along, I’m sure vaccines will be developed to beat them too.

The other point worth bearing in mind is that mutations don’t necessarily mean the virus becoming more virulent. Evidence from India, points to this having happened there, so as with the Spanish Flu, there is every chance that Covid could mutate into something less harmful.

Finally, it’s not that often I find myself agreeing with Professor Pie Tin, but I certainly do in this case.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Not long now lads.Not long ...

Stono said...

I dont want to get lost down the rabbit hole of whether pubs are covid hotsports or not as I think its impossible to prove a negative.

but I dont think Ryan is being as pessimistic as you think, Id agree things have changed for good, and its unlikely for some considerable time that theyll go back to how things were before this all happened.

the pubs may reopen soon but I dont see it as a bright side if they are forced to continue to operate under so many restrictions still, that will remain in place long into the months, maybe even years ahead,theres no exit plan for that,and that means lots simply wont survive operating that way.

So I dont think the future and outlook is as bright or optimistic as some of you believe, but I always was a glass half empty kind of drinker.

Ryan said...

@Paul Bailey. I haven't suggested quiet acquiescence to our new freak show world. However,I am suggesting that sitting back and hoping it all goes away over the summer will be the road to nowhere.

As to virus mutations, yes indeed, it is far more usual for a virus to mutate to a a less virulent form, as time goes by. Though what really matters, is how those running the freak show want to see things. I suspect for them, any new variant may be just another opportunity to lock us down further. The real nature of the mutated little beast will be of no importance.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Well that's it officially.
Irish Taoiseach Mehole Martin has said it'll be mid-summer before pubs open.
Not sure how that's going to go down when Irish eyes are crying looking across at Blighty enjoying the Euros down the pub.
Given that it's still only February and mid-summer could mean anything from mid-July onwards that's going to be a difficult sell to a public that's already had the longest and deepest lockdown of any in Europe.
Consider yourselves lucky when you bitch about not being able to get a pint till April.
To cheer yourselves up you could always read the cry of anguish from curtain-haired EU slimeball Guy Verhofstadt as he finally works out how crap the EU has been procuring its vaccines.
Make yourself a strong drink Paul Bailey ...

Curmudgeon said...

If you believe some of the speculation today, you'll be lucky to get a pint inside a pub without a meal in British pubs much before midsummer.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Mudgie - I'd be happy to stand outside in all weathers with a pint.I often do that to smoke a decent cigar anyway.
I'd actually prefer that to sitting down and/or socially distancing inside.
Until pubs are back being proper pubs again I don't see the point in jumping through hoops.It's not why I go to the pub.
Forget the speculation - this government is deliberately underplaying its success with vaccines.I'm sure that's partly for diplomatic reasons with the EU.
But infections and fatalities are dropping rapidly and the virus peters out in sunnier weather.
Keep the faith Mudgie.
There's enough doom-mongers already to be going on with.

Tandleman said...

Slimeball sums him up indeed.

Tandleman said...

Just read it Prof. Double slimeball.

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