Pubs face ‘Hobson’s choice’ on Covid passports: Landlords left with impossible decision over keeping social distancing but ‘not making profit’ or incurring cost of policing punters’ proof they are virus-free
- Government says Covid passports could be introduced in return for ‘reduced social distancing requirements’
- But UKHospitality says it has ‘very significant concerns’ and this will leave businesses with a ‘Hobson’s choice’
- Plans for vaccine passports, once rejected by the Government as ‘discriminatory’, are sparking huge backlash
- ‘Hobson’s choice’ is apparently free choice with no real alternative, named after liveryman Thomas Hobson
Pubs and restaurants in Britain could face having to decide whether to operate profitably by scrapping social-distancing in exchange for having to police Covid-19 vaccine passports themselves.
The Government has said the passport schemes could be introduced in hospitality settings in return for ‘reduced social distancing requirements’ – but industry leaders say this will leave them with a ‘Hobson’s choice’.
Plans for vaccine passports – which were once rejected by the Government as ‘discriminatory’ – have sparked a huge cross-party backlash, with 72 MPs signing a pledge to oppose them, including more than 40 Conservatives.
The Prime Minister has insisted pubs and restaurants will not need to introduce the schemes when they reopen outdoors next Monday or when they first permit customers indoors, probably on May 17.
But a review suggests they could ‘play a role in reducing social distancing requirements’ later in the summer, with a document confirming the NHS is already working on both digital and paper systems for the scheme. It comes as:
- Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Valneva Covid-19 vaccine produces a ‘strong immune response’;
- There could be a ‘resurgence’ of Covid-19 infections as lockdown continues to be eased, experts warned;
- The Government has recommitted to its pledge to offer all adults a Covid-19 vaccination by summer;
- Regulators are examining potential links between the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab and rare blood clots.
Pubs and restaurants are gearing up to reopen their outdoor areas next Monday with pent-up demand already resulting in some venues being booked up for months and people struggling to book a table, especially in London.
Two weeks ago Ministers announced a move to allow all pubs and restaurants to erect marquees on their property without planning permission to help boost trade – but Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin called it ‘entirely barking’.
Now, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, which represents 700 companies operating about 65,000 venues across Britain, has said the industry was facing a ‘Hobson’s choice’ as it prepares to reopen.
The Marquess of Anglesey pub in London’s Covent Garden is seen on March 25, as the hospitality industry prepares to reopen
She told The Times: ‘We have very significant concerns. Many businesses cannot operate profitably with the social distancing rules in place but if they have to police Covid status passports as well then the cost of compliance will be significant and the responsibility to police it will fall on staff.’
A Hobson’s choice is an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative – named after the 17th century liveryman Thomas Hobson who told all his customers to take the horse nearest the stable door or none at all.
How a ‘Hobson’s choice’ has its roots in a 17th century liveryman
The 1954 film Hobson’s Choice, starring Charles Laughton and Brenda De Banzie
A Hobson’s Choice is defined as an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative.
It can also mean the necessity of accepting one of a number of equally objectionable alternatives.
The phrase takes its name from the 17th century English liveryman who ran a stables in Cambridge.
He uses his horses to carry passengers, letters and parcels to and from London, and rented them to them to university students when he they were not being used.
But the students favoured certain horses which led to some being overworked, and he therefore began a rotation system which meant the customer could only have the horse nearest the door or none at all.
This rule became known as Hobson’s choice, and centuries later gave its name to the famous 1916 play by Harold Brighouse of the same name.
This also spawned several film versions, the best known of which is the 1954 movie starring Charles Laughton, John Mills and Brenda De Banzie.
A Government paper published yesterday as part of a review into using vaccine passports said: ‘It is possible that Covid-status certification could also play a role in reducing social distancing requirements in other settings which people tend to visit more frequently, for example in hospitality settings.
‘However, the Government recognises this has significant implications for businesses and their customers, so this will be further considered in consultation with industry, as part of the review of social distancing rules and taking into account the equalities and other impacts.
‘For now, businesses should continue to plan to reopen in a way that follows the latest Covid-secure guidance, and certification will not be required for reopening as part of step two (April 12) or step three (May 17).’
But a joint statement from UKHospitality, the British Beer & Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeepers said: ‘Government has promised the country that we will be reopening but we are now being told that this will be with our hands tied behind our backs.
‘Pubs will already be trading at a loss when they reopen with all the existing restrictions and Covid-secure measures in place. Adding further disproportionate and discriminatory measures threatens the very survival of thousands of businesses.
‘It’s unfair to single out our sector again with these added impractical burdens that will have economic consequences and risk our recovery.’
And Charlie Mullins, the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, said: ‘It’s not been lost on me that the scientists and other experts, when given a platform, still think masks and social distancing need to stay for another year or more.
‘Operating at 40 per cent capacity is not a viable option for so many already stretched hospitality businesses. So, as far as I can see, it’s a case of – carry the card, or digital pass, or face losing thousands of restaurants, or paying £100 for a burger and chips.’
‘Those who are against vaccine passports argue that they will create a two-tier society. Well, apart from the fact that pretty much everyone is getting the jab, so I’m not sure how that works? Those who cannot will surely be given an exemption, meaning the rest are choosing to be on the outside.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a coronavirus press conference at Downing Street in Westminster yesterday
‘And if anyone wants to talk about how a two-tier world might come about, how about when eating out becomes available only to the wealthy?’
What did Boris Johnson announce at yesterday’s No 10 press conference?
The next step of easing lockdown will go ahead as planned: The PM confirmed that non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers and libraries in England will reopen from April 12 while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors. Overnight stays away from home in England will be permitted. The majority of outdoor settings and attractions like zoos and theme parks can also reopen.
Foreign travel: A traffic light system will be rolled out when international travel is allowed again but the PM refused to commit to his target roadmap date of May 17 for resuming flights. The new system will see countries rated green, amber or red based on data including vaccination levels and Covid-19 case numbers. Return travel from countries on the green list will be quarantine-free although people will still need to take tests before their trip and when they return. Ministers said it is ‘too early to say’ which countries will be green.
Vaccine passports: The PM unveiled the initial findings of a Whitehall review into the use of ‘Covid status certification’. The documents will combine vaccination, testing and immunity data and will be used to determine access to large-scale events. The Government has left the door open to the documents being used for access to pubs and restaurants.
Working from home and social distancing: Initial findings from a Government review suggest both WFH and social distancing could continue past ‘freedom day’ on June 21 – the last date in the roadmap. The review said it is looking at ‘how and when to safely lift or amend the 1m+ rule’ as well as other restrictions like working from home. It stressed that the conclusion will ‘depend on the latest data and evidence on the state of the pandemic’ while ‘the extent of any relaxation in social distancing measures’ will be linked to the success of vaccine passports. The findings do not contain a specific target date by which the rules will be lifted.
Return to spectator events: Ministers will run a series of pilot programmes in different venues to test the best ways to bring back crowds to live events. The pilots will be closely linked to the vaccine passports initiative, although the initial events will focus entirely on using testing data to grant access. Participating venues will include the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield and the Circus nightclub in Liverpool. Ministers are also hoping to admit a crowd of up to 20,000 people to Wembley for the FA Cup final on May 15, with a second wave of pilots taking place from the end of May.
Back to normal: A new paper published by the Government’s SAGE committee said life will not go back to normal this summer even if the PM’s roadmap goes completely to plan. SAGE sources warned that while vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’. The experts claimed that ‘baseline measures’, including some form of social distancing and masks, would need to remain in place until this time next year. They said they are ‘reasonably confident’ that Covid will be manageable by then.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted today that coronavirus certificates will not be required for when hospitality reopens outdoors next Monday, or when it reopens indoors in May.
He told Sky News: ‘Next Monday, you can go to a beer garden and have your beer – there is no requirements for vaccine certification or passports that are being referred to.
‘In May, you will be able to go inside the pub and enjoy your drink, and there is no question of a vaccine certification being asked for.’
But he added: ‘It’s only responsible as we see how this virus behaves, as we see how other countries are utilising technology to make sure that they keep the virus under control, then we should look at the same thing.’
Despite a mounting political backlash, the Prime Minister said last night that it was ‘sensible’ to look at whether a ‘Covid status certification scheme’ could play a role in easing the lockdown this summer.
A new Government report on the issue stated that vaccine passports are ‘likely to become a feature of our lives until the threat from the pandemic recedes’.
The 12-page document said proof of Covid status was certain to be required for international travel and likely to be needed to get crowds back into stadiums, concert venues and theatres.
But it also suggested that schemes could be introduced in pubs and restaurants in return for ‘reduced social distancing requirements’.
The move put the Government on collision course with MPs and sections of the hospitality industry opposed to the idea.
At a press conference in Downing Street last night, Boris Johnson refused to guarantee MPs a vote on the scheme, saying only that it would be ‘put to parliament’ if necessary.
Plans for vaccine passports – which were once rejected by the Government as ‘discriminatory’ – have sparked a huge cross-party backlash.
Some 72 MPs have signed a pledge to oppose them, including more than 40 Tories – enough to wipe out the Government’s majority.
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper last night warned the scheme would create a ‘two-tier Britain’ and said it was vital that MPs had the final say.
Mr Harper, chairman of the 70-strong Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said: ‘Trying to introduce these domestic vaccine passports by the back door by linking them to removing social distancing rules just won’t be acceptable.
‘It is crucial MPs are allowed a vote on this. Whether the state legislates for it, recommends it or simply allows it, Covid Status Certification will lead to a two-tier Britain and these issues need debating thoroughly and carefully before we allow them to affect the lives of our constituents.’
Former minister Steve Baker described the plan as ‘authoritarian and illogical’.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, branded the proposal ‘intrusive, costly and unnecessary’.
Labour also hardened its position against the idea, but stopped short of committing to vote it down.
The party’s Cabinet Office spokesman Rachel Reeves said Labour had ‘many reservations’ about the initiative, adding: ‘We have an amazing take-up of the vaccine, it is being rolled out incredibly successfully by the NHS – it is not totally clear to me that we need a sledgehammer to crack a nut here.’
The Flask pub in Highgate, North London, pictured last week , which is among those preparing to reopen its outdoor areas
A masked pedestrian walks past the closed Arnos Arms pub in Arnos Grove, North London, last week
A senior Labour source told The Guardian that Sir Keir Starmer and other prominent Labour figures ‘are all minded to vote against’ the documents amid fears over how the scheme could work and its cost.
Post-lockdown roadmap in the four home nations: Where are they now, and what’s coming next?
- Latest lockdown easing – From March 29 up to six people from different households can meet outdoors and you can enjoy most outdoor sports.
- What’s coming next? – Beer gardens and restaurants with outdoor dining can reopen. Non-essential retail venues can also reopen from April 12. May 17 will see easing of international travel restrictions as well as the return of indoor mixing. On June 21, all legal limits on social distancing will be axed.
- Infections/deaths: 3,812,188 total cases with 127,616 deaths.
- Latest lockdown easing – From yesterday (April 5) barbers and hairdressers allowed to reopen alongside garden centres and homeware stores.
- What’s coming next? – From April 26, beer gardens and gyms will be allowed to reopen. From May 17, cinemas will open their doors again and four people from two households can meet indoors.
- Infection/deaths – 219,986 total cases with 7,614 deaths.
- Latest lockdown easing – From March 27 ‘Stay local’ rules scrapped and travel allowed within its borders. Six people from different households can meet indoors
- What’s coming next? – Travel between Wales and the rest of the UK will be allowed from April 12 and all non-essential shops will be allowed to open. From April 26, outdoor hospitality will be given the green light. Indoor mixing will be allowed from May 10.
- Infections/deaths: 209,627 total cases with 5,511 deaths.
- Latest lockdown easing – From March 8 children in pre-school, nursery and primary one to primary three allowed back to the classroom.
- What’s coming next? – Northern Ireland does not have a roadmap in the same way as other regions, but non-essential shops and travel is expected to come back soon.
- Infections/deaths: 117,503 total cases with 2,116 deaths
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told BBC Breakfast today that Labour was ‘very sceptical’ and wanted more details about how they would work.
The interim findings of the Government’s review said public transport and essential shops would not require vaccine passports.
But Mr Ashworth said: ‘I’m not going to support a policy that, here in my Leicester constituency, if someone wants to go into Next or H&M, they have to produce a vaccination certificate on their phone, on an app. I think that’s discriminatory.’
He said while it ‘makes sense’ to ask people to take a test before going to events such as football games ‘we don’t think asking you to produce a vaccination passport, which is this digital ID card, is fair’. ‘It’s discriminatory,’ he said.
The Prime Minister last night acknowledged there were ‘complicated ethical and practical issues’ involved in any Covid certification scheme, not least because some people cannot have the vaccine.
He said any system would also allow people to show they had recently tested negative for Covid or that they’d had the virus in the previous six months and were therefore likely to have immunity.
In an interim report yesterday, the Government ruled out allowing them for essential services such as supermarkets, public transport and GP surgeries, but said it would not stand in the way of businesses that want to bring them in.
The review found that Covid certification ‘could have an important role to play both domestically and internationally, as a temporary measure’.
It said that businesses are already able ‘to ask customers for proof of Covid status in order to access their premises, as long as they are compliant with equalities legislation’.
The report added: ‘The Government believes that introducing a ban on this would in most cases be an unjustified intrusion on how businesses choose to make their premises safe.’
Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said that while vaccine passports might make people feel ‘a bit safer’ they would need ‘enormous scrutiny’. He added: ‘The detail is an absolute nightmare.’
The row over vaccine passports came as the Government’s scientific advisers warned that further steps along the road map to ease England’s lockdown could result in another wave of coronavirus cases.
The next stage of the process – on April 12 – will see non-essential shops, pub beer gardens and hairdressers among the businesses allowed to reopen.
Minutes of a March 31 meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) showed that modelling suggested the measures ‘may only lead to a modest increase in hospitalisations and deaths’ and were ‘unlikely to exert pressure on the NHS’.
But the advisers warned that changes planned for May and June – when greater indoor social mixing is set to be permitted again – could cause hospital admissions to rise to levels seen during January’s peak, according to scenarios based on ‘pessimistic but plausible’ assumptions about how effective vaccines will be.
A paper from modelling experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said their projections suggested stage four – pencilled in for June 21, when remaining restrictions are expected to be abolished – could ‘lead to a larger surge of cases and deaths comparable to that seen during the first wave’.
They cautioned their findings were ‘preliminary’ and made ‘pessimistic assumptions’ about the later stages of the road map.
But scientists at the University of Warwick also shared a similar conclusion that a ‘distinct third wave of infection’ would arise due to the current rate of planned unlocking, with hospital admissions peaking between late July and mid-August.
Source: Read Full Article