Pub and restaurant operators have fought back against claims from the British Medical Association (BMA) that the hospitality sector needs to do more to improve the ventilation in their venues in order to reduce the airborne risk of Covid-19 transmission.

The trade union made the comments in support of an article by the British Medical Journal earlier this week that cited research showing that good ventilation was crucial to minimising transmission.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA chair of council, said that while the ‘hands, face, space’ message had got a lot of coverage, there had been much less discussion by the government about the critical importance of fresh air and throughflow in buildings and on public transport.

“As restrictions are eased, and there is greater mixing between people in enclosed spaces, it is vital that measures are taken to ensure adequate ventilation,” he said. “This should include explicit specifications on ventilation requirements in public and work settings, including in the hospitality sector such as restaurants, bars and pubs.”

But Tony Sophoclides, strategic affairs director at UKHospitality told MCA that the hospitality industry was already “ahead of the game”. “We factored ventilation into our guidance on risk assessment from early in the pandemic, and in the protocols and guidance that informed the Government’s own required standards for the sector. Many settings already exceed the SAGE research requirements and it is one of many mitigations that venues have in place,” he said.

Examples of hospitality businesses taking ventilation very seriously are Five Guys. Chief executive John Eckbert told MCA that the business has made a point of investing in ventilation and spends on average £250k per site on its extraction HVAC systems because “we think it’s really worth investing in”. He said the type of systems it has put in place are partly down to the fact it has an open kitchen but it has the bonus of offering “a really helpful protection for our guests”.

Referencing a research paper from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) in October 2020, which recommended that the fresh air requirement for a restaurant where people will be dwelling while they are eating is eight to 10 litres of fresh air per second, per person. He said that Five Guys system produces at least 15+ litres per sec, per person – way above the target suggestion from the CIBSE to minimise the risk of Covid transmission.

David Fox, managing director at restaurant group tampopo reiterated that the guidance the hospitality already on ventilation “is well above what is in non-essential shops, schools and sadly hospitals and care homes where infection rates are well above any hospitality venues”.

While Heydon Mizon, joint managing director at McMullen’s said that any changes would need to be evidence-led and would require significant changes for some businesses that aren’t practical in the timescales available.

He added that with testing, vaccination and infection rates now significantly lower and the new important metric of hospitalisation numbers also very low, “there is nothing but good news and so throw away comments about ventilation shouldn’t get airtime”.