The pubs of the near future could have protective screens between tables, bar staff wearing goggles and dedicated workers to enforce physical distancing, according to a vision set out by the pub chain JD Wetherspoon.
The company, whose outspoken chairman, Tim Martin, has previously faced criticism for playing down the risk of Covid-19, said it was spending £11m on measures to ensure its 867 UK pubs can reopen this summer.
It outlined a series of precautionary measures including:
Gloves, masks and goggles for staff.
Protective screens at the till and between tables.
Ten hand sanitiser bottles per pub.
Staff told to hold glasses at the base.
Daily health checks on employees.
Condiments will come in disposable sachets rather than reusable containers.
The government has said some pubs could start reopening from 4 July, as part of the third phase of lockdown restrictions being eased.
Guidance issued by the trade body UK Hospitality has previously suggested an end to bar service, while the British Beer and Pubs Association said this week the 27,000 UK pubs with beer gardens should be among the first to open.
However, Wetherspoon’s list of measures is the most detailed blueprint yet for how a visit to the pub could look in a post-lockdown world.
The £11m plan will include two staff members per pub, or more in bigger venues, specifically tasked with disinfecting surfaces such as door handles, handrails and card payment machines.
Dedicated staff will also monitor the pub to ensure physical distancing is being maintained, while customers will be encouraged to use one of 10 hand sanitiser points in each pub.
Coronavirus: should everyone be wearing face masks?
The World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on face masks has remained consistent during the coronavirus pandemic. It has stuck to the line that masks are for healthcare workers – not the public.
“Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted,” the WHO has stated.
Nevertheless, as some countries have eased lockdown conditions, they have been making it mandatory to wear face coverings outside, as a way of trying to inhibit spread of the virus. This is in the belief that the face covering will prevent people who cough and sneeze ejecting the virus any great distance.
There is no robust scientific evidence – in the form of trials – that ordinary masks block the virus from infecting people who wear them. There is also concerns the public will not understand how to use a mask properly, and may get infected if they come into contact with the virus when they take it off and then touch their faces.
Also underlying the WHO’s concerns is the shortage of high-quality protective masks for frontline healthcare workers.
Nevertheless, masks do have a role when used by people who are already infected. It is accepted that they can block transmission to other people. Given that many people with Covid-19 do not show any symptoms for the first days after they are infected, masks clearly have a potential role to play, especially on crowded public transport as people return to work..
Sarah Boseley Health editor
In areas where seating is dense, protective screens will be erected to create a barrier between tables; there will also be screens at the till.
Staff will be given gloves, masks and goggles, although they will not be required to wear them. They will also be subject to daily health questionnaires and a health check using a digital thermometer. Workers will hold glasses at the base when they deliver drinks to tables.
Where possible, each pub will have separate entrance and exit doors, with markings on the floor to guide any customers who become confused.
Customers will also be asked to use the Wetherspoon app to order food to their table, or pay with contactless cards, although cash will be accepted.
The JD Wetherspoon chief executive, John Hutson, said: “We have spent a number of weeks consulting with staff who work in our pubs, as well as area managers in order to draw up our plans.
“We have received more than 2,500 suggestions from our staff. The safety of our staff and customers is paramount.”
Martin has previously played down the risk of Covid-19 transmission in pubs but later changed his mind, saying the government’s decision to keep pubs shut was “fair enough”.
The BBPA said larger pubs were likely to have an advantage in being able to show that physical distancing can be maintained.
Wetherspoon’s pointed to the average 4,000 sq ft floor space of its venues and said almost 700 of its 867 UK pubs have a beer garden, roof terrace or patio.
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