Why beer gardens are a vital lockdown issue – leader comment

Nicola Sturgeon’s decision not to allow beer gardens to re-open because of evidence that pubs and restaurants are coronavirus ‘hotspots’ is correct, but urgent work is now needed to establish what the problem is and how some, if not all, outlets could re-open safely as soon as possible.

Nicola Sturgeon is right to be cautious as coronavirus lockdown is eased (Picture: Jane Barlow/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon is right to be cautious as coronavirus lockdown is eased (Picture: Jane Barlow/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that beer gardens and restaurants’ outdoor dining areas are to remain closed for at least two more weeks, despite further easing of the lockdown’s restrictions, was greeted with “shock and dismay” by the Scottish Licensed Trade Association.

The First Minister explained there was “emerging evidence” that pubs, restaurants and also gyms could be “hotspots” for coronavirus transmission, adding further research was necessary to find ways to protect people before they could be allowed to open.

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The SLTA’s shock suggests the lines of communication between the Government and the industry are not quite what it should be. Decisions are being taken quickly, as indeed they need to be, but dialogue is extremely important to ensure we are re-opening our economy as quickly but also as safely as possible.

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Clearly it would not be sensible to allow infection ‘hotspots’ to re-open. That would be to risk throwing away the gains made in suppression of the virus during the lockdown. If we essentially invite a second wave of infection, all the sacrifices we have made and the economic damage might end up being for naught.

However, there is surely a difference between premises that sell alcohol and those that don’t. It is common sense that drunk people are unlikely to follow the rules, but a pub that sells little food other than crisps and is open at night is surely a very different proposition to a dry cafe that serves food to people at socially distanced and/or screened tables outdoors in the daytime.

Whether or not it is possible to find a safe way to allow those sort of premises to re-open in a specially created ‘phase 2.5’ in the next two weeks, before the review on 2 July, this is an issue that has to be a priority. Many schools are ‘breaking up’, in a virtual sense, and families will have more scope to visit such establishments, particularly if parents have taken time off for cancelled holidays abroad.

These businesses may be small but they are numerous, employing significant numbers of people across the country.

As we attempt to re-open the economy, beer gardens are an example of how alive to potential problem areas the Government needs to be, but also of how innovative we all must be in finding solutions whenever they occur.

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