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IEA warns evidence used to justify hospitality closures is ‘tenuous’

by Mark Fitt Political Journalist
30th Nov 20 12:30 pm

On 27 November the government published a brief policy paper justifying its focus on the hospitality sector in the new post-lockdown tier system.

The policy paper pointed to four types of “tenuous” evidence, which have little relevance to pubs in Britain today.

Since July, the hospitality sector has introduced a number of new measures to create social distancing, limit mixing between households, reduce noise and increase ventilation.

Conclusions drawn from, for instance, Asian bars and nightclubs at the start of the pandemic tell us nothing about the safety of Britain’s bars and restaurants in November 2020.

None of the evidence cited by Sage supports, or even addresses, the idea of requiring a “substantial meal.”

However, the government’s treatment of the hospitality sector comes in stark contrast to the decision to keep gyms, churches and hairdressers open in Tier 3.

Research from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) authored by Head of Lifestyle Economics Christopher Snowdon, casts doubt over the relevance of evidence on which Tier 2 and Tier 3 restrictions on the hospitality sector will be based.

Much of the evidence appears outdated – including the government’s description of ‘close, prolonged, indoors, face-to-face’ contact ‘in poorly ventilated and/or crowded spaces’ and bears no resemblance to the British pub sector today.

Since July, regulations and countermeasures introduced when venues reopened have addressed a number of risk factors. For example, customers must be seated while drinking and must wear masks when standing or walking. Tables are spaced out to avoid crowding, and “loud activities” such as live music are no longer allowed.

While poor ventilation, crowding and activities that produce more aerosols (e.g.  singing, aerobic activity) are risk factors for Covid-19 transmission, they are not unique to hospitality and have not been characteristic of hospitality venues in the UK since they reopened in the summer.

Further regulation could be imposed is necessary, as ventilation can be easily monitored using CO2 measurements. The use of beer gardens and pavement areas by pubs and restaurants could be permitted and encouraged.

There are risks that further restrictions of the pub sector will increase unregulated private gatherings where transmission of the virus is easier. The strengthening and effective enforcement of proven preventive measures should be used to help stem the spread of COVID-19, not new lockdowns and restrictions.

Christopher Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs and author of Pubs and Covid-19: Flawed Claims and Faulty Reasoning said, “In its efforts to justify carpet-bombing the nation’s pubs, Sage have cobbled together a handful of studies to give it the veneer of science. None of the studies suggest that pubs or bars are uniquely dangerous, many of them don’t mention pubs or bars at all, and most of them involve outbreaks in Asia in the early days of the pandemic when there was little or no social distancing.

“Sage refuse to acknowledge the drop in infections in places like Manchester and Newcastle under the old Tier 2 rules.

“They do not even attempt to justify the plan to require meals to be served with drinks. This policy alone will lead to the unnecessary closure of thousands of ‘wet pubs’ and other licensed venues, such as snooker halls and casinos.

“Businesses which could be operating safely will be forced to furlough their workforce and accept government grants to stand idle.

“Who benefits from such wilful destruction?”

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