'We have played the game, we have done our bit to help the economy, we have had to cut jobs along the way. But now, another kick in the teeth.'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 21st September 2020

This morning, the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty briefed the nation on the current state of Covid-19 infections, hospitalisations and deaths.

They warned that infections could reach 50,000 a day in less than a month's time, and that "speed and action" were necessary to curb the spread, failing which "the number of deaths directly from Covid will continue to rise, perhaps exponentially." 

Pinpointing "crowded environments, indoor environments, poor ventilation" as locations where the virus is spread, Patrick Valance said that in the past month, cases have risen, first among the young, then an older demographic, and have resulted in a sharp rise in hospitalisations - doubling every eight days for the past two weeks.

This, he stressed, was not just due to rise in test numbers, as the rate of positives is higher irrespective of mass testing. 

If numbers continue to rise, Patrick Vallance said said, the number of new cases would reach 49,000 in less than a month's time, and more than 200 deaths a day by November. 

"There's no doubt we're in a situation where the numbers are rising," he said, stressing that the situation can change very quickly. 

"That requires speed, action and enough to bring that down." 

"There is the potential for that to move very fast." 

Chris Whitty said that despite pockets of high infection rates, namely in the North West and North East of England, the Midlands and the capital, the whole country is seeing rate increase.

Consequentially, he said, "this is not someone else's problem, this is all of our problem." 

"If this carried on unabated," he said, "the number of deaths directly from Covid will continue to rise, perhaps exponentially." 

"We have - in a bad sense - literally turned a corner, relatively recently" stressing that "the seasons are against us" and "it is very likely that they benefit Covid in the same way that they benefit the flu."

"This period of the next six month, we need to realise that we have to take this collectively very seriously." 

Dispelling the assumption that a second wave could be much less nefarious than the first, Patrick Vallance said that there is little evidence that the virus is milder than in April - but the fact that it has risen in younger adults first, only to affect an older demographic later, such as has been the case in mainland Europe, is why it feels that way. 

And while treatment is more effective and medicine has improved, the direct death rate could indeed be lower, but far from negligeable. 

Chris Whitty explained that there are 4 ways in which a second wave could have an effect: Direct Covid deaths, overwhelmed NHS services, indirect effect of death and illness, and collateral damage - economic, mental health terms 

"Ministers making decisions for all of society have to walk a very diffcult balance: If we do too  little, the virus will go out of control and we will get significant increases in direct and indirect deaths but if we go too far the other way we can cause economic damage," he said.

The pair ended with promising tests of vaccines, which they said could be available as early as the end of 2020 or early 2021 for limited numbers of people.

What does this mean for hospitality?

The briefing was scheduled as local lockdowns come into force across the country and the threat of further controls loom. With talks of new restrictions in the capital and widespread curfews, the hospitality industry is likely to suffer another devastating blow.

On the weekend, Health Minister Matt Hancock said the country is facing a “tipping point” in the fight against the virus, and refused to rule out the closure of pubs and restaurants as early as this weekend. 

However, according to newly-formed Public Health England's own statistics,Food Outlets and restaurants only account for 5% of infections on the final week of August - at the tail end of the government-sponsored Eat Out To Help Out scheme.

Many in the industry have called into question the logic of closing hospitality down to flatten the curve. 

UKHospitality Chief Kate Nicholls shared a graph showing that, as was the case during the first wave of the virus, many infections occurred in care homes: 

 

Punch Tavern founder Hugh Osmond decried the threat of restrictions on the hospitality industry, and said:

Arguing that another lockdown makes little sense, insight editor at Propel, Mark Wingett, said: "We have played the game, we have done our bit to help the economy, we have had to cut jobs along the way.When you the government called, we answered, as we always do, to the best of our ability."

"The sector has worked hard to be “covid secure”, fought tooth and nail for the chance to make a go of living off 40%-70% of last year’s trade. Again and again, it has highlighted its expertise in keeping people safe."

"But now another kick in the teeth – and operators already dealing with local lockdown and curfews are sadly ahead here – looks to be on the cards. If you want the shorthand, hospitality, especially pubs, is, without any foundation, being pitted against hospitals and schools in a round of either/or, and being lined up to become a “covid circuit breaker”."

Meanwhile, chef and owner of The Black Swan in Oldstead and Roots, Tommy Banks predicted what many in the industry fear:

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 21st September 2020

'We have played the game, we have done our bit to help the economy, we have had to cut jobs along the way. But now, another kick in the teeth.'