Daily Mail

What happened to ‘follow the science’ rather than all this knee-jerk panicking?

Three voices lay bare the economic —and emotional — cost of Omicron doom-mongering

- By Patrick Dardis CEO OF YOUNG’S PUBS

ALAS, it did not take long for the Omicron hysteria — for that is what I believe it is — to reverberat­e through the hospitalit­y sector.

Within hours of the country being told that a new variant of Covid had been identified in southern Africa, the phones started ringing in the 300 pubs, restaurant­s and hotels in the Young’s chain.

And it wasn’t good news: the cancellati­on of Christmas parties, dinner bookings scrapped, weekend events in December delayed until who knows when, minibreaks binned. This scenario is being repeated up and down the land, be it in small rural establishm­ents or large city hotels.

And all when tills should be ringing at what is the busiest, most profitable time of year for hospitalit­y.

Instead, many landlords and managers have spent the past few days looking at crossedout bookings, blank diary pages or question marks over the entries that remain.

It is yet another catastroph­ic knockback for our sector, which has been severely damaged by months of protracted lockdowns — and one that makes no sense in the face of the current evidence.

As the respected South African medic Dr Angelique Coetzee, who first identified Omicron, pointed out in yesterday’s Mail, the effects of the variant so far seem to be mild in those infected.

Yet this has not stopped the Government reneging on its promise of the ‘irreversib­le’ easing of restrictio­ns, and hastily rolling out fresh measures — among them compulsory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport — with the threat of more to come.

And, of course, we’ve seen this ‘mission creep’ before.

But now we have vaccines, with a sizeable proportion of the population triple-jabbed and promises of a turbocharg­ed booster roll-out in the next few weeks. So why the panic?


The timing could not be worse. It’s difficult to overstate just how important Christmas is in the hospitalit­y calendar: for some businesses it can generate over a quarter of the entire year’s profit.

Many have been hanging on for dear life just to get to this point, following a phenomenal­ly difficult two years — including last year’s effective cancellati­on of Christmas at the last minute — in an industry which, along with travel, has been among the worst hit by the pandemic.

A huge number of companies have already gone under because of the cumulative­ly gruelling effect of three lockdowns or the navigation of endlessly changing rules; be they the profit-limiting 10pm curfews or the nationwide tier system, which saw pubs in our chain able to open in some parts of the country but not in others.

And who can forget the debacle that ensued when it was decided that alcohol could be served only with ‘a substantia­l meal’ — which left us debating whether a Scotch egg or a portion of chips would suffice?

We emerged from all this madness only to find ourselves in the grip of the dreaded ‘pingdemic’, when legions of staff were forced to isolate after being ‘pinged’ by the trigger-happy NHS Test and Trace app.

So, while the customers were back, there were barely any staff to serve them — with some premises having to close and lose out on vital footfall.

Finally, a relaxation of all these rules in the wake of the hugely successful vaccinatio­n programme meant that we could start to plan for a bumper Christmas.

Until now. This latest lurch into fraught over-reaction is yet again placing livelihood­s at risk — and all because of doomsday prediction­s by scientists whose worsecase-scenario prophecies rarely stand up to scrutiny in hindsight.

And this continual scaremonge­ring is matched only by the inconsiste­ncy of government messaging, which flip-flops from Pollyanna-ish cheers of ‘freedom’ to the gravest possible pessimism.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tells us it will be a ‘great’ Christmas one moment, only for his colleague Dr Jenny Harries, the head of NHS Test and Trace, yesterday advising us not to socialise unless ‘necessary’. Why didn’t she just come out and say it: let’s ban Christmas again?

Just about the only consistent link in all of this is the irrational­ity that appears to seize the Government every time there is a new Covid mutation. Whatever happened to that sacred mantra of ‘following the science’ rather than this kind of knee-jerk panicking?

And so we find ourselves contemplat­ing a festive pingdemic and further restrictio­ns. Let me be very clear: this risks a catastroph­ic impact on an already reeling sector, and one which may see thousands more businesses go to the wall in the new year if we continue down this path.

I believe there is no justificat­ion for it and I implore the Government to think very carefully before making an already bad situation far worse.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom