Pubs opening: Do I need to book and are they open from 6am?

Pubs are reopening in England on 4 July, which has been coined ‘Super Saturday’

Pubs in England are permitted to reopen on Saturday 4 July – the first time in over 100 days since the start of lockdown on 23 March.

On Friday 3 July Boris Johnson said pubs will be allowed to open from 6am on Saturday, a rule implemented in a bid to stop "anybody [attempting] to try to open at midnight" on Friday.

However it will depend on the pub's individual licensing agreements whether they'll be able to serve you a pint that early.

The Wetherspoons chain has already confirmed it will open from 8am.

For many it will be a welcome chance to boost takings and get customers through the door – for others it will be a struggle to ensure their premises are Covid-secure and meet all the necessary opening guidelines.

Whether you're planning to go out on Saturday or stay at home, these are the new rules you'll need to adhere to when you decide to venture out.

What do the government rules say?

All pubs will have to comply with the following rules in order to open: the business has to be self-contained and accessible from outside (rather than through another building), it must reconfigure all tables to maintain social distancing, identify potential pinch points and busy areas, provide clear signs on social distancing, put distancing markings on the floor, encourage customers to use hand sanitiser when entering the pub, and make toilet queues safe.

The government says pubs might want to consider one-way systems around the bar, and use of contactless ordering from tables (rather than going up yourself) where possible. Publicans should also assign a single staff member per party and stop customers returning empty glasses to the bar (even if you think you’re being helpful).

It is against the law to gather in groups of more than 30 people, but the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has said pubs are exempt from this because they are following Covid-secure guidelines. Although patrons may still be required to book online beforehand to manage numbers. Pubs will also be required to keep a record of customers for a period of 21 days, in order to assist NHS Test and Trace efforts if needed to identify clusters or outbreaks.

The government has also warned pubs that they shouldn’t do anything which might cause people to raise their voices or shout. So although they are allowed to show football and live sport, many might choose not to, to keep rowdiness to a minimum. Venues are also not permitted to host live performances “because of the potential for increased risk of transmission, particularly from aerosol transmission”, it says.

How safe are pubs?

Dr Simon Clarke, professor in microbiology at University of Reading, tells The Independent that pubs are an “average risk” on the spectrum of places where people are going to mix. “I wouldn’t call [pubs] a low risk environment but it is lower [than others]. I don’t believe the people who go to pubs are more or less likely to be carrying the virus than anyone in the general population. It ought to be remembered that now most cases are in healthcare settings, not in the community.”

Dr Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University and on the Department of Health's Nervtag (New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Group), which advises the Chief Medical Officer on the threat posed by new viruses, agrees: “It is easy to exaggerate risk in a pub environment when you think about it getting crowded but actually that misunderstands behaviour because we aren’t all just mingling with random people, we are going to remain in our bubble or stay close to the people we know well.”

Dr Dingwall says those at risk in a pub setting are more likely to be staff than customers. “Because they are dealing with representatives from all the different bubbles, but that [risk] should be mitigated by the use of perspex screens.”

But Dr Robert White, lecturer in virology at Imperial College London, says the risk in pubs all depends on the behaviour within them: “[Risk] all depends on what promotes shedding of virus. If it is any breathing, then the problem is simply one of person density. If effective shedding requires talking, shouting, singing then quiet pubs are safe; football pubs are not.”

What can you do to stay safe?

  • Only meet one other household and book ahead of time. You are still only allowed to gather indoors in groups of up to two households. Outdoor gatherings should also only be with two households or a maximum six people from any number of households. 

  • Drink in the pub garden. Dr Clarke also says it would also be better to drink in the pub garden than inside - “the risk is always lower outdoors than indoors” - he explains. And Dr Dingwall agrees: “I don’t think it is seriously contested now that outdoor environments do not present any risk worth bothering about. So sit in a garden.” 

  • Avoid using the toilet if you can. Dr Clarke says there is quite a high risk from using public toilets. “When you’ve got to go you’ve got to (and some people have medical requirements that require it) but I would say avoid where you can. They have high footfall, are dark and cramped. There is also a possibility of faecal or urine Covid-spread [a Lancet study in February explored this]. If you use one try not to touch anything and wash your hands!” 

  • Don’t shout or cheer. Pubs have been warned not to have loud music or TV that will encourage patrons to raise their voices above normal conversation level, but remember this when you’re over-excited, watching the football and have had a few pints.

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