Like the Spice Girls, the industry needs two to become one. The two metre vs one metre debate is just one of the many challenges jostling away in the sector, but it has emerged as a central issue for the financial viability of many operators.
As they have explicitly spelled out, a reduction from two to one could literally be the difference between reopening or staying shut.
It’s not the only factor slowly extinguishing this vibrant sector, but the debate flared up again yesterday, thanks to a report from the WHO, which was interpreted differently by the newspapers.
The Guardian went with the headline that reducing distancing from two metres to one could double the risk of infection. Not good news for hospitality.
Meanwhile the Daily Mail’s take was that if you’re two metres away from a carrier there is a 1.3% chance of catching the virus, but being one metre away raised the risk to “only” 2.6%.
One negative angle, the other positive. Both interpretations are fair, but they also communicate mixed messages to anyone reading them.
That’s problematic, because a significant factor in the future health of the hospitality industry, especially short term, will be how people feel about socialising again after months of the coronavirus scaring the wits out of them.
I’ve seen arguments in supermarkets over people getting too close, we’ve all seen rants on Facebook.
There is no question the mindset of the average person has changed, the environment we all live in today has made that inevitable. At worst people are visibly frightened to be within two metres of another person, at best it’s introduced a level of wariness of being around other people that never existed before.
The Mail and the Guardian were not the only ones reporting on the news, but the more you look, the more it looks like the Mail was in a minority by taking a positive angle.
ITV reported the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health had said two metres is “vital”, and the Telegraph went with “Keeping two metres apart from someone with coronavirus is twice as effective as a one-metre gap”.
Of course you’d expect the government, which will ultimately make the call, to read and interpret the WHO report for themselves, alongside other robust and up-to-date scientific research, rather than scanning the headlines in the papers.
They are hopefully still considering it. Last Wednesday the PM told MPs he was looking at the issue and was hopeful the two metre distancing could be reduced.
Yesterday a spokesman for the PM said: “We continue to keep all of these matters under review but the current guidance is that the two-metre rule should remain in place.”
At least it’s apparently being reviewed. Although it doesn’t change the fact there are operators out there frustrated by the lack of clear guidelines around the safety of staff and customers to enable them to plan and open effectively, and they are still waiting.
It’s also worth noting that even one metre will be too much for many operators to even partially reopen, or indeed businesses in all sorts of sectors, anything that involves crowds of people, from cinemas to nightclubs to stadia.
And though it’s emerging as a big piece, the two metre rule is just one part of the overall puzzle. The very pressing issue of rent is uppermost and remains undecided, as does insurance, and the future for hundreds of thousands of employees once the JRS ceases to exist in November doesn’t look good.
There is every possibility that once November rolls around things will be very different to how they are today, and there is now some momentum in an industry forced to halt in March.
But if businesses have to attempt to reopen under severe safety constraints, ongoing support from the government will be required in order for them to do so with any hope of staying afloat.
It’s not hard to be critical about how the government has handled the coronavirus crisis. Some of it has looked incompetent, some of it misleading, and, in the case of Dominic Cummings, risible.
But on the financial issues alone it’s hard to be critical when the government has offered a level of support that, compared to other economies, is relatively generous and has proved to be a genuine lifeline for many.
Still, according to the chancellor they won’t, even in the event of a second wave of infections that would see us slide back into stringent lockdown measures with everything that entails, have a rethink. Of course that might change, everything is unpredictable.
If a second wave does occur, the government will do the sums and decide whether extending the JRS is preferable to dropping a bomb on Universal Credit. But for now, no further extensions to any scheme is the official position.
It’s also true that because blanket support is being wound down doesn’t mean specific support can’t be called for by certain sectors. And at the very least, hospitality has a good a case as any.
Editorial: Quick decisions, please.
Like the Spice Girls, the industry needs two to become one. The two metre vs one metre debate is just one of the many challenges jostling away in the sector, but it has emerged as a central issue for the financial viability of many operators. As they have explicitly spelled out, a reduction from two to one could literally be the difference between reopening or staying shut. It’s not the only factor slowly extinguishing this vibrant sector, but the debate flared up again yesterday