Hospitality not linked to significant COVID-19 transmission

New report also argues the industry does not pose significant risk moving forward

HOSPITALITY venues across the UK were not linked to significant numbers of COVID-19 infections last year, according to a new report.

The publication, titled Safe Reopening of Hospitality, was compiled by trade group UK Hospitality in conjunction with research agency CGA and sets out the arguments for why venues were not significant areas for COVID-19 transmission last year – as well as the reasons why hospitality venues will not pose a significant risk moving forward.

The report points out that there was not a significant upturn in COVID-19 cases after hospitality venues were allowed to reopen last July and refers to Public Health England figures as well as research by UK Hospitality, the British Institute of Innkeepers and the British Beer & Pub Association, which showed very few cases of COVID-19 being directly linked to hospitality venues.

Public Health England linked 5.2% of cases to hospitality between July and September, falling to 2.7% of cases in October, with the trade group research claiming 1% of cases.

The report also quoted Dr Richard Harding, public health director in Staffordshire, who reported to the UK Government that “the bulk of COVID-19 transmission has always been in people’s homes”.

Speaking in January 2021 Harding said that, after household transmission, “hospitality did feature but much lower down the list”, adding that the sector is “certainly nowhere near the top of my risk radar”.

The report challenges a paper published by Warwick University last year, which linked a rise in cases during August to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. That study had claimed cases “surged” a week after the scheme began and declined a fortnight after it ended.

However, the UK Hospitality/CGA report challenges that theory, arguing that hospitality venues remained busy in September, with food and drinks sales in the first and second weeks of the month 100% and 84% of the August figures, respectively.

The UK Hospitality/CGA report said: “If, as the Warwick study suggests, COVID-19 outbreaks were connected to busier venues, why did the study show a drop in cases once September began?”

It is also argued that if Eat Out to Help Out had contributed to a spike in cases, there would be a correlation between the local authority areas with the most venues participating in the scheme and the areas with the largest increases in COVID-19 cases.

“Instead, the data shows the opposite,” it states.

The report posits that the rise in cases during August “was instead driven by the reopening of schools, which saw millions of children mixing before returning home each evening”.

It is also argued that the imposition of trading restrictions on hospitality venues resulted in “the movement of millions of people from the well-regulated hospitality sector to mixing in unregulated households, which are the leading environment of transmission”.

Arguing the case for reopening hospitality venues, the report points to the significant legal regulations and requirements covering the sector, the range of hygiene and cleaning protocols implemented by businesses and how well suited hospitality premises are to providing well ventilated spaces for customers.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, said: “The result of the lockdowns and the restrictions placed on the sector last year was crippling. Business was devastated to an extent hitherto unimaginable. Many businesses are barely surviving and cannot afford another year with restrictions on the scale of 2020.

“Reopening has to be done correctly at the first time of asking. A barrier to that could be the incorrect assumption that our businesses pose a risk to public health. We know that hospitality businesses are safe and all the data has shown we are not a significant area of transmission.

“This report is a vindication of everything we have been saying and a forceful argument for allowing us to reopen and welcome back our customers.

“Hospitality can lead the economic recovery of the country. We can provide jobs to people who have lost them and host millions who are desperate for some enjoyment after a torrid year. This report shows we can do it safely, too.

“The government should take note and ensure it allows hospitality to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The full report can be read here.