If the Government refuses to re-evaluate its two-metre physical distancing guideline, it will be up to the industry to interpret the rule “as flexibly as we can,” Jeremy Roberts, Living Ventures co-founder has said.
Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, Roberts said that although the Government’s determination to stick to a distance at odds with that of the World Health Organisation – which recommends a one-metre distance – “staggers” him, the key to a successful reopening will be a flexible industry response.
“Ultimately we are all going to have to look at our own due diligence and ensure that we interpret the rules in such a way that it works both on a health and safety side, and in a way that enables us to operate,” he said.
“The Government may not be good at flexibility, but our industry has always been good at it. We’ve just got to work out a way that doesn’t destroy the hospitality environments in which we make our living.”
As complaints about the unviability of two-metre distancing in hospitality spaces continued to grow last week – with the likes of Brewdog, Jonathan Downey and the BBPA issuing calls to the Government to reconsider the recommended distance – Public Health England sparked new hope that the guidance may be reduced.
PHE medical director Professor Yyvonne Doyle told the Commons science and technology committee on Friday (22 May) that with Britain a clear outlier in social distancing, the distance would be a “subject of continued investigation.”
“But the important thing about the two metres is in close contact two metres, certainly for a prolonged period of time indoors, would seem to be a precautionary measure at the moment,” she said.
And according to UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls, it is this ‘prolonged period’ emphasis that will provide the greatest area of flexibility when applying the rule to hospitality spaces.
Speaking to MCA earlier this month, Nicholls said that although she deemed it likely that the two-metre guidance would be applied when the industry is allowed to reopen come July, that it won’t be as simple as ensuring a constant distance of that length between every individual.
Instead, the guidance will be applied primarily to back of house, between work colleagues rather than for consumer-employee contact.
“Sustained contact closer than two metres for more than 20 minutes is the risk factor,” she explained, “so passing people in a corridor or passing people as you go to the bar are not going to be a particular problem.”
However, as demonstrated in last week’s Hospitality Leaders Poll by MCA Isnight/HIM, Nicholls’ explanation didn’t appear to abate the fears of a large proportion of the industry.
The weekly poll, which collects responses from 400 founders or board level operators across restaurants, pubs and food-to-go, found that 40% of operators believe their business would be viable with a one-metre, as opposite to two-metre distancing rule.
More worryingly, 20% of respondents said that even this reduced distance wouldn’t make a difference, and that they wouldn’t be able to operate at all under any social distancing measures.
And expressing the frustrations of a growning number in the industry, Luke Johnson, Risk Capital Partners chairman and Roberts’ co-panellist at The Conversation, said that on a broader scale, the Government’s “ludicrous inflexibility” in tackling the virus from the start will be the biggest challenge to business recovery.
“The Government’s attitude is that once they’ve made a rule, they’re sticking to it,” he said.
“And sticking to their rules sometimes seems to be more important than actually being right.”
“This is the rigidity of Government.”
Two-metre distancing needs ‘flexible interpretation’
If the Government refuses to re-evaluate its two-metre physical distancing guideline, it will be up to the industry to interpret the rule “as flexibly as we can,” Jeremy Roberts, Living Ventures co-founder has told MCA’s The Conversation. “The Government may not be good at flexibility, but our industry has always been good at it. We’ve just got to work out a way that doesn’t destroy the hospitality environments in which we make our living.”