Pub company JD Wetherspoon has just reported that it has had approximately 32 million customer visits to its 861 open pubs in the 10 weeks since 4 July.
There have been 66 positive tests for COVID-19 among its 41,564 employees during this time. 811 pubs have reported zero positive tests, 40 pubs have reported one, six pubs two, two pubs three and two pubs four.
Most of the reported cases have been mild or asymptomatic and 28 of the 66 employees have already returned to work, after self-isolating in accordance with medical guidelines.
Chairman Tim Martin said, “The situation with regard to pubs has been widely misunderstood. For example, Professor Hugh Pennington, of Aberdeen University, has said, without scientific evidence, that pubs are 'dangerous places to be' (Daily Express, 14 August). This sort of negative view about pubs may have been fuelled by inaccurate press headlines.
'The Daily Mail (11 September), for example, said 'Britons have promised to run riot” during the weekend and referred to the situation as being like “the last days of Rome'.
“In fact, trade was very quiet over the weekend, as the public weighed up the evidence about the alleged dangers of going out - Wetherspoon sales were 22.5% below the equivalent Saturday last year.
'It is clearly not the case that pubs are 'dangerous places to be. There have been more positive cases at one farm in Hereford than at all Wetherspoon pubs- and over four times as many at one sandwich-making facility in Northampton.
'As Swedish epidemiologist Johan Giesecke has said strong scientific evidence shows that handwashing and social distancing, as practised by most pubs, work.
'In this connection, Wetherspoon has invested around £15 million on comprehensive social distancing and hygiene measures. These include reducing capacity, spacing out tables, the installation of screens between tables and around tills, and an average of ten hand sanitisers per pub.
“Bad decisions are built on false presumptions, like those of Professor Pennington and the Daily Mail.
“As Councillor Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, has recently said, 'The data we have shows that the infection rate has risen, mainly due to social interactions, particularly private household gatherings. In shops and hospitality venues there are strict measures in place to ensure they are Covid-free, whereas it is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone’s house, where people are more relaxed and less vigilant.'
Martin added, “If pubs are closed, or restricted so much that they become unprofitable, a great deal of the strenuous effort of the hospitality industry’s 3.2 million employees, currently engaged on upholding hygiene and social distancing standards, will be lost - leaving the public to socialise at home or elsewhere, in unsupervised circumstances.
“A major difference between the UK’s and Sweden’s approach, as reflected in comments from the Daily Mail and the approach of the government, is a lack of trust in the public.
“The UK has adopted a colossally expensive “big brother” approach, based on exhortation, lockdowns, bewilderingly frequent changes of direction and other heavy-handed initiatives.
“In Sweden, public policy is based on trusting the people and this will eventually lead to far superior results.'
Martin concluded, “Although it is clearly possible for Covid-19 infections to take place in pubs and shops, the evidence indicates that the risk is low, provided social distancing and hygiene rules are followed, and common sense is used, in line with the views of Professor Giesecke and Councillor Ward.”