Whenever I write about something it’s always helpful to understand it. Like all of you I’ve watched the coronavirus drama develop slowly and menacingly, but understanding the scale of what it might evolve into is elusive to those with expertise in the area, let alone people like me.
Fortunately Nigel Farage popped up on the BBC this week to give his verdict, and who better to opine on the issue than someone highly skilled at spreading virulent and insidious poison around the country? But this is where we are, a surreal situation where the BBC is reaching for a bigoted clown like Nigel Farage to explain how best to deal with it.
To a real expert then, like Richard Horton, the editor in chief of medical bible The Lancet, who has spent years analysing dramas like this and watching them come and go. Sars, bird flu, swine flu, at one point smallpox was coming back to kill us all and ebola was going to make our insides melt. None of those incidents heralded the worst cases scenarios posited by many experts at the time.
But this time Horton’s take on things carrying on pretty much as normal, with some extra hand-washing and no handshaking, is that it’s a terrible idea, and we need “urgent implementation of social distancing and closure policies. The government is playing roulette with the public. This is a major error”.
How does that make you feel as a hospitality operator? Social distancing and closures are anathema to a sector that literally relies on long opening hours and people socialising.
How to balance the socio-economic issues at stake here, to protect customers and employees from a fiercely contagious virus spread through either physical or indirect contact, but also to protect the hospitality economy from grinding to a halt?
As much as we all wish coronavirus would die down and disappear it looks like it’s almost certainly going to get worse before it gets better, and the implications for hospitality are dire. This isn’t the apocalypse, but it is going to last for months.
I didn’t want to write about coronavirus over the last few weeks because I didn’t want to add to the rising swell of drama, but what started as another hyped-up illness is now right here and very real, and the havoc it could wreak on hospitality is unprecedented.
In a very sober press conference earlier today, the PM announced the government has moved from its current containment phase to the delay phase, so technically a coughing employee should stay at home for seven days – and obviously a barman, waitress or chef cannot do that.
Even if they do come into work with a cold or raspy cough, no customer is going to want to be served by them. And those thousands of office-based employees that can work at home won’t be out buying a sandwich, a pint, a long lunch or dinner.
So what to do here? Every CEO I’ve spoken to in the industry is all over it, variously stress testing, scenario modelling, monitoring their supply chains, looking after their employees and the welfare of their customers. But this is an external threat, so as essential as those actions are they can’t eradicate the source of the problem, only attempt to mitigate it.
And for many operators, particularly the smaller ones, it’s the existential nature of this threat which is the most concerning aspect. All coming off the back of a seriously testing few years.
Last month, in this same column, I wrote that things appeared to be looking up. I hate to say that didn’t last long. But the challenges of the last couple of years have demonstrated the resilience and spirit that exists in the hospitality industry, and in a situation like this that’s just as well. And, eventually, this too shall pass.
Handling the coronavirus chaos
Whenever I write about something it’s always helpful to understand it. Like all of you I’ve watched the coronavirus drama develop slowly and menacingly, but any detailed or real understanding of the scale of what it might evolve into is elusive to those with expertise in the area, let alone people like me. Fortunately Nigel Farage popped up on the BBC this week to give his verdict on the coronavirus crisis, and who better to opine on the issue than someone highly skilled at spreading virulent and insidious poison around the country?