SAVING THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY IN WALES


The Welsh hospitality industry from tomorrow will be forced by the Welsh Government to shut from 6pm and will not be allowed to serve alcohol for the next two weeks.

First Minister Mark Drakeford claims that this decision, which will see many bars and restaurants having to close as it just doesn’t make sense commercial sense to trade under such restrictions, was specifically made to stop the further spread of infection amongst the population in Wales.

He said this was backed up by evidence from the Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) which advises the Welsh Government and the SAGE group of scientists which advises the UK Government.

If studies clearly showed that the reopening of pubs, restaurants and cafes since the last firebreak was the direct cause of the subsequent increase in infection rates, then there would be no arguments whatsoever about this decision. Unfortunately, there seems to be no valid evidence from either TAC or SAGE to show this.

For example, if we examine the most recent advice given by TAC to Welsh Government, there was no mention at all of incidents within the hospitality industry never mind evidence to show that there was direct causal relationship between any increases in infections and the reopening of premises after the firebreak. Instead, it noted that “high numbers of incidents continue to be reported mainly in residential care homes and school settings” both of which remain open.

The advice from SAGE is similarly non-specific largely quoting, for example, outbreaks at the beginning of the pandemic from countries such as Japan, China, South Korea, and Indonesia.

Yet none of this takes into account the current context in which the hospitality industry has collectively invested millions of pounds to make premises as safe as possible for its staff, customers and communities.

In other words, there are no published studies that examine the impact of the current safety measures on reducing the infection rates within the hospitality industry.

Of course, if the industry was operating in the way it did during the pre-Covid environment then a strong case could be made for closure. Unfortunately, SAGE still believes that to be the case stating “higher risk contacts are those that are close, prolonged, indoors, face-to-face, in poorly ventilated and/or crowded spaces”

But those of us who go out to drink and eat all know how different that experience is by now.

You book online, you give your contact details or they are taken on arrival, your temperature is taken before you enter and encouraged to use hand sanitisers. You are then escorted by staff wearing masks to a table that has been disinfected thoroughly and is socially distanced from others sometimes with physical screens.

You order using an app on your phone and the drinks or food is delivered to your table on a tray. You have to wear a mask when coming in or out of the premises and when going to the toilets where numbers are restricted.

You follow a one way system out of the pub or restaurant which then thoroughly cleans your table for the next customer. If you stray from this, the landlord or his staff will politely remind you of the regulations.

But don’t take my word for it. The Labour Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said that not only had the vast majority of his city’s businesses responded in the right way, investing heavily in providing safe, compliant environments and a place for people to enjoy themselves safely, but inspections showed a very high level of compliance.

In other words, if people in restaurants and pubs are in COVID-safe environments with high levels of sanitisation and appropriate spacing, then why close them down? It can be argued that people are safer in a well-managed pub or restaurant than in a supermarket where there is little control on people and there is no test and trace.

The Welsh Government has emphasised that it has to look at the balance between lives and livelihoods and no-one wouldn’t expect any less.  However, when those livelihoods, which are measured in hundreds of thousands of jobs, are being directly affected without any evidence to show why they are being singled out, then the hospitality industry has the right to ask why those in power are doing this especially when they refuse to show unequivocal evidence that the recent increase in infections is a direct consequence of people visiting hospitality establishments.

With rates seemingly higher in care homes, hospitals, schools, universities and other settings, the industry is right to question why it has been singled out for such treatment?

Of course, the incredible news that vaccinations will begin soon will change the landscape for everyone and, combined with a better testing regime, will enable the hospitality industry to go back to normal sometime next year.

But until then, businesses will continue to struggle to survive despite the £340m of support announced by the Welsh Government and it is likely that many establishments that were looking forward to their busiest time of the year will now be shutting their doors for good, resulting in many jobs being lost in 2021

And if that isn’t enough of a kick in the teeth for a hospitality industry that has faced incredible pressures during the last nine months, new travel rules issued this week from the Welsh Government means that people in Wales can now drive to a Tier 2 area in England to have a meal in a restaurant or pub with those in their household but are barred from doing the same locally.

Of course, it up to the Welsh Government to make a decision on how to manage its response to Covid-19,  but if the hospitality industry in Wales is being forced to close despite doing everything asked of it by politicians to create a safe environment for its staff and customers, then this should be done on the basis of clear and unequivocal evidence that shows it has been largely responsible for the increases in Welsh cases over the last few months.

That is the least that those hospitality businesses who have worked so hard deserve as they looks ahead to a bleak Christmas and New Year.


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