Stirling University has been slammed by Scottish hospitality groups following the publication of its study into whether pubs can effectively and consistently prevent COVID-19 transmission risks. After it revealed only 29 Scottish pubs were surveyed and of the sample, only 11, a “substantial minority” according to the report were found to be lacking Covid-19 mitigations.
The government-funded, University-led research, included telephone interviews in May and June when hospitality was not open. It did not open until mid-July. And the visits to the venues only two hours each.
The researchers found that a dozen pubs had a table-only service and had protocols in place to ensure toilets were socially distanced but noted “several” premises did not have staff wearing proper PPE or keeping a distance from other staff.
The report concluded, “Despite the efforts of bar operators and guidance from government, potentially significant risks of COVID-19 transmission persisted in a substantial minority of observed bars, especially when customers were intoxicated.”
Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for SHG said, “It’s a farce that this report is even on the table for discussion. It is an out-of-date witch-hunt, that is wholly unreflective of our industry, and while Scottish Hospitality businesses are left to fail daily, the government has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds on a six-month-old study based on a tiny number (0.17%) of Scotland’s bars and restaurants.
“In reality, we are talking about just a handful of premises. From those 29 targeted, criticism is levelled at in their own words a ‘substantial minority of observed bars.’ You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that basing the closure of a £10.5 billion industry on this sham of a report would be ludicrous.
“We made it clear to the government last year, long before hospitality reopened in July, that face coverings should have been made mandatory from the start and that the government should design a QR code system, both of which were ignored.
“Yet again, the government has failed to listen and work with our industry. Rather than haemorrhaging cash – when businesses and employees need a financial lifeline – time and money would be better spent on working with the sector to reopen safely and allowing us to help rebuild the economy.
“We know that hospitality isn’t a vector and there’s no evidence to support that it is. The SHG members alone, which employ over 6000 people, have had only 32 positive cases of COVID-19 among staff since July. Over the period from July to 26th December, staff at SHG premises have worked around 1,150,000 hours, meaning there has been only one confirmed case for every 36,000 hours worked.
“Targeting the few bars and restaurants which are breaking the rules is the proper and proportionate way to proceed, but the vast majority have been adhering religiously to every regulation that has been introduced because we realise the very future of our industry is at stake. Where was this report last autumn when we could have educated the rogue operators on what they were doing wrong and corrected it, rather than releasing it so many months later?
“Our sector has a vital part to play in combating this virus. We have bent over backwards to ensure staff and customers are protected, with huge efforts being made by the vast majority of responsible operators in social distancing, PPE, track and trace and other hygiene measures, and all without any financial help from the Scottish Government.”
UKHospitality Scotland Executive Director Willie Macleod said, “The research by the University of Stirling paints an alarmist and almost wholly inaccurate picture of the efforts to which Scotland’s hospitality businesses have gone to keep people safe.
“The report appears flawed in the extreme. It is limited to just 29 licensed premises out of an estimated 9,000 across the country, with these venues only being visited for a maximum of two hours each. The report states that research was also carried out during the period of May to August 2020, even though businesses were only permitted to reopen in mid-July. We do not agree that the efforts of the researchers are anywhere near enough to accurately represent even a reasonable proportion of the sector, never mind its entirety.
“The vast majority of businesses, owners, managers and staff members have taken a diligent approach to conform with Government regulations and guidance. Industry investment in PPE and other measures was around £900m UK-wide and around £90m in Scotland. They have, in some cases, completely remodelled their premises, installed new equipment and overhauled staff training to provide safe venues.
“Published public health data repeatedly shows that hospitality is not where transmission occurs on any significant scale and we refute the suggestion that businesses have broken official guidance. There also is no evidence to support measures such as the curfew, which the report advocates, but other commentators have agreed was counterproductive.
“Hospitality businesses have not been responsible for COVID transmissions in any meaningful way, but they continue to bear the brunt of massively damaging restrictions. They are too often the victims of alarming rhetoric and specious innuendo. Their future, and the livelihoods of their employees, is at risk if they are forced to shoulder any more burdens introduced on the back of misleading and misguided calls for further restrictions.”
The University research, Managing COVID-19 transmission risks in bars: an interview and observation study, was funded by the Scottish government, following the UK national lockdown from 20th March 2020, saw researchers explore and observe business practices and behaviours in licensed premises with regard to Covid-19 transmission. Prior to premises re-opening in Scotland, they conducted in-depth telephone interviews (May-June 2020) with participants from hospitality trade associations, licensed premises, or in related roles. Interviews focused on anticipated business practices and challenges relevant to minimising Covid-19 transmission. Following re-opening (July-August 2020), they conducted observations of relevant practices and behaviours in 29 bars. The report found that most observed premises had made physical and operational modifications, however, practices were variable and included close physical interaction between customers and with staff, frequently featuring alcohol intoxication and rarely effectively stopped by staff.