Politics

Re-opening pubs in April would be ‘premature’ warns health expert amid pandemic

Talk of reopening pubs as soon as April is “premature” and the licensed trade needs to be patient before lockdown eases, a health expert has warned.

It comes as one of the UK’s largest breweries claims there is no reason bars cannot open in April, as its boss expressed exasperation at ministers “lack of interest”.

The Young’s brewing conglomerate today called on Boris Johnson to “do the right thing” and show strong leadership when the industry “needs it most”.

Scotland’s hospitality industry has been shut since December, with pubs in much of the central belt closed since October.

Nicola Sturgeon will update MSPs on the Scottish Government lockdown strategy on Tuesday, but there is so far no indication of when the licensed trade can expert to resume.

Scottish Labour today called on SNP ministers to work with the hospitality industry so it could prepare for a safe reopening.

MSP Alex Rowley said: “The hospitality industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, it employs tens of thousands of people and it is vital that it is supported through the pandemic to secure those jobs into the future.

“If the scientific evidence supports it, the Scottish Government should be prepared to work with the industry to bring forward a timetable for the re-opening of the sector in a safe fashion when it is possible to do so.”

The Scottish Government said lockdown restrictions would not be lifted when it was safe. to do so.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the chief executive of Young’s said the UK Government is basing its decision to keep pubs closed on “unfounded and unproven statistics”.

But Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school, said “It’s premature because we don’t know what the state of cases will be in the country at that point in time.

“It may be that the cases are low and that we have regained control because we are now managing to keep the case numbers down and our immunisation levels have been sufficiently high to have a majority of the vulnerable population immunised and therefore protected,” he said, highlighting the “criteria” required.

Dr Pankhania, who has widespread experience of advising on national communicable disease control action plans at national and international level, added: “What the executives of pubs etc etc need to know is that failure to get it right equals back to square one.

“And back to square one equals much more pain economically, much more hardship.

“It is better to get it right than to prematurely bow to pressure and open up when you’re not ready to open up,” he said.

Dr Pankhania said all activities where human to human interactions occur involve risk, pointing out that alcohol also makes people drop their guard.

“Whichever way you want to cut it, you drink alcohol to relax and have a bonhomie with your friends.

“One of the consequences of relaxing is that you drop your guard,” he said.

Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor at the University of Leicester, said we now know how Covid-19 spreads and should not have to keep seeing numbers at this stage.

The consultant said: “The numbers are now just surveillance to monitor the virus as it is spreading – to see the trends in response to various interventions, which is different.

“Opening pubs will bring more people into closer contact with each other – this will allow the virus to spread – we already know and understand this concept.”

Tory MSP Donald Cameron said: said: “Many people miss going down to the local pub for a drink or meal, but we simply can’t open them up until it is safe.

“More than a million people have been vaccinated in Scotland, and the simple formula is the more that are jabbed, the nearer we get to easing restrictions.

“Landlords will be as keen as customers to open back up. This virus has put livelihoods on the line in the hospitality industry.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “No one wants these restrictions in place a moment longer than absolutely necessary.

“We are totally committed to working with business, especially in the most effected sectors of tourism and hospitality, as we have been doing throughout the pandemic. The Tourism Secretary continues to engage with the sector and individual businesses on a daily basis.

“However, we know covid thrives in enclosed environments, where ventilation may be poorer and where people come into closer proximity with one another for extended periods of time.

“There are risks in settings with these characteristics, including, but not limited to, hospitality, thus the current measures are unfortunately necessary until we see sustained falls in infection rates. Restrictions are reviewed on a regular basis and will only be lifted when it is safe to do so.”

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