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If pubs are exempted from new lockdown restrictions, let's hope the coronavirus knows the difference between a boozer and a living room

Scientists argue that social distancing is more easily enforced in a bar than in someone’s lounge – I wonder if anyone in Sage has tested that theory out after a couple of pints

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 04 August 2020 11:08 BST
Bars and pubs shut due to coronavirus cases just days after reopening

Among the many confusions people have about the current rules about Covid-19 (more complicated and inconsistent than anything the European Commission ever came up with about straight bananas, by the way), nobody seems to understand why sitting near someone in a pub is any less lethal than sitting near them in your kitchen.

Surely the coronavirus can’t tell the difference as it considers the next set of lungs to invade? And yet we’re told that English pubs are likely to be exempted from any new restrictions on social contact to stem coronavirus outbreaks; as in the local restrictions now in force in Bradford, Leicester and Manchester, say, the ban will be on stopping different households meeting up at someone’s home, including the garden. (Excluding households in a “bubble”). But anyone can meet anyone in a public house. At least that is how I understand it.

You can see the problems. I can’t see who is going to police any ban, touring living rooms asking for credentials. It will depend on voluntary compliance, and people tend to obey rules they understand. The scientists argue that social distancing, with or without masking, is more easily enforced in a public lounge bar than in someone’s lounge, (even if they’ve installed one of those built-in cocktail bars in the corner that were once, quite bizarrely, popular in people’s homes).

I wonder, though, whether the folks sitting around the table at Sage meetings sipping mineral water have ever got a bit tipsy, if only in the name of scientific research. If so, and if they’re able to remember anything about the night before as they wake up chained to a bus stop on the outskirts of town without their shoes on, they might realise that alcohol has the great effect of dissolving inhibitions, social barriers and, indeed, social distancing. When you can’t recall your own name, it’s hard to remember what face, Hale and Pace, or whatever the new slogan is, stands for. Shouty arguments about VAR can break out; the phlegm starts to fly; the virus spreads...

Of course, the real difference between downing pints in a boozer or a living room isn’t virological but financial. Unless you’re one of those people rich enough to employ staff to circulate with drinks trays and vol-au-vents to your guests, your drinking session at home won’t be keeping anyone in a job or supplying as much revenue to HM Treasury. It is all about economics. There’s nothing wrong with that, so why not just admit it?

Maybe this is also a very good moment for Boris Johnson to realise why the pubs were in such terrible, heartbreaking trouble long before Covid-19 struck, which is the punitive taxation of drinks in pubs compared with the cheap alcohol readily found in supermarkets, ready to be consumed at home.

If Rishi Sunak can give me £10 off my pie and chips at the pub, then he can surely chip a bit off the cost of a round. The next time Boris and Rishi see Tim Martin down the local ’spoons for a photo op, they should ask him about the realities of his business (but maybe not why beer kills the coronavirus). Some of us need no great incentive to go to the pub, but it would certainly help the trade in the long run if the Treasury helped out a bit more. Mine’s a pint.

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