What happened to 'follow the science' on Covid, asks PATRICK DARDIS

What happened to ‘follow the science’ on Covid rather than all this knee-jerk panicking, asks Young’s Pubs CEO PATRICK DARDIS

Alas, it did not take long for the Omicron hysteria — for that is what I believe it is — to reverberate through the hospitality sector.

Within hours of the country being told that a new variant of Covid had been identified in southern Africa, the phones started ringing in the 300 pubs, restaurants and hotels in the Young’s chain.

And it wasn’t good news: the cancellation of Christmas parties, dinner bookings scrapped, weekend events in December delayed until who knows when, mini-breaks binned. 

This scenario is being repeated up and down the land, be it in small rural establishments or large city hotels.

Within hours of being told a new variant of Covid was identified, the phones started ringing in the 300 pubs in the Young’s chain, says Chief Executive at Young’s Patrick Dardis (pictured)

And all when tills should be ringing at what is the busiest, most profitable time of year for hospitality.

Instead, many landlords and managers have spent the past few days looking at crossed-out bookings, blank diary pages or question marks over the entries that remain.

It is yet another catastrophic knockback for our sector, which has been severely damaged by months of protracted lockdowns — and one that makes no sense in the face of the current evidence.

As the respected South African medic Dr Angelique Coetzee, who first identified Omicron, pointed out in yesterday’s Mail, the effects of the variant so far seem to be mild in those infected.

Yet this has not stopped the Government reneging on its promise of the ‘irreversible’ easing of restrictions, and hastily rolling out fresh measures — among them compulsory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport — with the threat of more to come.

And, of course, we’ve seen this ‘mission creep’ before.

 

But now we have vaccines, with a sizeable proportion of the population triple-jabbed and promises of a turbo-charged booster roll-out in the next few weeks. So why the panic? 

The timing could not be worse. It’s difficult to overstate just how important Christmas is in the hospitality calendar: for some businesses it can generate over a quarter of the entire year’s profit.

Many have been hanging on for dear life just to get to this point, following a phenomenally difficult two years — including last year’s effective cancellation of Christmas at the last minute — in an industry which, along with travel, has been among the worst hit by the pandemic.

A huge number of companies have already gone under because of the cumulatively gruelling effect of three lockdowns or the navigation of endlessly changing rules; be they the profit-limiting 10pm curfews or the nationwide tier system, which saw pubs in our chain able to open in some parts of the country but not in others.

And who can forget the debacle that ensued when it was decided that alcohol could be served only with ‘a substantial meal’ — which left us debating whether a Scotch egg or a portion of chips would suffice?

We emerged from all this madness only to find ourselves in the grip of the dreaded ‘pingdemic’, when legions of staff were forced to isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the trigger-happy NHS Test and Trace app.

So, while the customers were back, there were barely any staff to serve them — with some premises having to close and lose out on vital footfall.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured) tells us it will be a ‘great’ Christmas, only for Dr Jenny Harries, head of NHS Test and Trace, advising us not to socialise unless ‘necessary’

Finally, a relaxation of all these rules in the wake of the hugely successful vaccination programme meant that we could start to plan for a bumper Christmas.

Until now. This latest lurch into fraught over-reaction is yet again placing livelihoods at risk — and all because of doomsday predictions by scientists whose worse- case-scenario prophecies rarely stand up to scrutiny in hindsight.

And this continual scaremongering is matched only by the inconsistency of government messaging, which flip-flops from Pollyanna-ish cheers of ‘freedom’ to the gravest possible pessimism.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tells us it will be a ‘great’ Christmas one moment, only for his colleague Dr Jenny Harries, the head of NHS Test and Trace, yesterday advising us not to socialise unless ‘necessary’. 

Why didn’t she just come out and say it: let’s ban Christmas again?

Just about the only consistent link in all of this is the irrationality that appears to seize the Government every time there is a new Covid mutation. 

Whatever happened to that sacred mantra of ‘following the science’ rather than this kind of knee-jerk panicking?

And so we find ourselves contemplating a festive pingdemic and further restrictions. Let me be very clear: this risks a catastrophic impact on an already reeling sector, and one which may see thousands more businesses go to the wall in the new year if we continue down this path.

I believe there is no justification for it and I implore the Government to think very carefully before making an already bad situation far worse.

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