How easy is it to judge social distancing after a few pints?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that, from 4th July 2020, pubs and restaurants will be allowed to conditionally and cautiously re-open, both indoors and outdoors. 

After downgrading the COVID alert level, the government’s scientific advisers do not believe there is currently a danger of a second wave that will overwhelm the NHS. “We can now go further to ease the lockdown - although caution will be our watchword,” said the PM, before laying out next stage plans.

It will be incredibly difficult to implement especially as friends and family begin to bunch together after a few pints

The two-metre social distancing rule, which prevented hospitality businesses from operating effectively, is to be relaxed from the beginning of next month. Where keeping a two-metre distance is not possible, one metre should be observed ‘while taking mitigations to reduce transition.’

Restaurants, pubs and bars were forced to close on 21st March as part of UK plans to inhibit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. The government are now asking the public to “follow guidance rather than legislation.”

2020 06 23 Brotherhood Protective Bar Screen 1
Many bars, such as Brotherhood in Leeds, have now introduced protective screens at the bar

In order to help prevent transmission of coronavirus and to reassure customers, individual hospitality businesses are being encouraged to put in safety guidelines. These include operating a table service and introducing pre-booking to reduce and monitor the number of customers. Measures also include the installation of protective screens, availability of hand sanitiser, single-use menus, providing face coverings for employees who will have less direct customer contact, and monitoring staff shift patterns. 

This, however, puts much pressure on individual venues who will have to police their own premises to make sure customers are following social distancing rules.

“We cannot lift all restrictions at once,” said Johnson. “We must trust the British public to use common sense. The more we open up, the more vigilant we will have to be.”

Social media was immediately awash with restaurants excitedly announcing plans to reopen on 4th July. Many people obviously want to go to the pub again, but how is it possible to trust other customers to keep more than one metre away - especially if they’re a bit tipsy?

Sacha Lord, night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, was one of the first to issue a response to the Government's announcement on pubs, bars and restaurants today. 

“I’m pleased with the announcements today," he said. "We are 12 days away from reopening the sector and by the very nature of our industry, we simply wouldn't have been able to wait any longer to get clarity. I’ve personally spoken to hundreds of operators who are desperate to open their doors and who can now start planning rotas, opening booking systems and restocking fridges.

"The last three months have been the toughest our sector has ever faced. The two-metre spacing requirements would have devastated the sector and put thousands of operators out of business, so the relaxation of rules is welcomed. A one-metre-plus regulation will enable more customers to enter premises, more sales to be made and ultimately more venues to stay open. 

"There’s obviously some confusion and we need more clarity with regards to the wearing of face masks, but it’s a good start and injects some hope into a sector that has been damaged, for some irreversibly, during the crisis.

"My only concern is the onus on the operator on ensuring social distancing remains in place, especially when customers have been drinking. It will be incredibly difficult to implement especially as friends and family begin to bunch together after a few pints. I want to ensure that while operators should act in good faith in terms of adhering to guidelines and doing all they can, that they aren't penalised for customer behaviour."

Parkers Arms Interior
Pubs will be allowed to reopen from 4th July, with social distancing measures in place

During his statement in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said: “Our long national hibernation is coming to an end. A new cautious optimism is palpable, but it would be all too easy for that frost to return.”

He promised the government would continue to monitor the data and “will not hesitate to apply the brakes and reinstate the restrictions" if cases of coronavirus began to spike.

Many restaurants in Greater Manchester have already been putting in new safety measures for a number of weeks now in anticipation of them being allowed to reopen. Albert’s Schloss has introduced forehead temperature scanners at the entrance, Lily's Vegetarian in Ashton has a one-way system and hotels such as Native aparthotel have staff posted at allocated points to help monitor the flow of customer in public areas and toilets to avoid overcrowding. 

However, there are always people who see the positive in a dark situation. London’s @magal2 restaurant pointed out an immediate advantage to the new lockdown easing rules by tweeting ‘with new lockdown rules you have to register your name and details before you enter our restaurant. Maybe that will stop some of you writing up bullshit one star reviews on Google the moment your food arrives 5 minutes too late.’

Although the latest update is welcome news to those in the hospitality sector, many customers feel slightly cautious about returning to normality.

Over the coming days we will be chatting to a number of local restaurant operators to gather their responses to the easing of lockdown restrictions, discover their plans for reopening and hear more about what they're doing to ease customer confidence. 

Also read: Councillor’s support plea: ‘We won’t stand by and watch Manchester’s culture take its last gasp’