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Industry slams ‘wholly inaccurate’ Covid-19 bar report

Two hospitality trade groups have lambasted a new report that found ‘significant risks’ of Covid-19 transmission in a minority of bars, calling it a “farce”.

A new study into Covid-19 transmissions in bars has been criticised for being ‘flawed’

Researchers from the University of Stirling have published a report titled Managing Covid-19 transmission risks in bars: an interview and observation study, which observed business practices and behaviours in licensed premises across Scotland.

To produce the study, researchers said they conducted in-depth telephone interviews with hospitality trade associations and licensed venues ahead of their reopening in July 2020. The team also visited 29 bars in Scotland and observed behaviour and practices in response to the pandemic.

The study, published by professor Niamh Fitzgerald and her colleagues at the Institute for Social Marketing at the university, reported that despite the efforts of operators to minimise the risk of spreading the virus, ‘potentially significant risks of Covid-19 transmission persisted in a substantial minority of observed bars, especially when customers were intoxicated’.

‘Sham of a report’

Trade body Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG) said the study was a “sham of a report”.

Stephen Montgomery, spokesperson for the SHG, said: “It’s a farce that this report is even on the table for discussion. It is an out-of-date witch hunt, that is wholly unreflective of our industry, and while Scottish hospitality businesses are left to fail daily, the government has paid hundreds of thousands of pounds on a six-month old study based on a tiny number (0.17%) of Scotland’s bars and restaurants.

“In reality we are talking about just a handful of premises. From those 29 targeted, criticism is levelled at in their own words a ‘substantial minority of observed bars’. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out that basing the closure of a £10.5 billion (US$14.6bn) industry on this sham of a report would be ludicrous.”

The trade body recently published its own data, which found fewer than 1% of staff members contracted Covid-19. The SHG, which employs more than 6,000 people, said just 32 positive cases of Covid-19 were reported among staff from July to Christmas 2020.

‘Flawed in the extreme’

Hospitality trade bodies have called the report ‘flawed in the extreme’

Trade body UK Hospitality also criticised the University of Stirling’s report for painting an “almost wholly inaccurate picture” of the steps taken to minimise the spread of Covid-19 in the on-trade.

Willie Macleod, UK Hospitality Scotland executive director, said: “The report appears flawed in the extreme. It is limited to just 29 licensed premises out of an estimated 9,000 across the country, with these venues only being visited for a maximum of two hours each.

“The report states that research was also carried out during the period of May to August 2020, even though businesses were only permitted to reopen in mid-July. We do not agree that the efforts of the researchers are anywhere near enough to accurately represent even a reasonable proportion of the sector, never mind its entirety.”

Macleod highlighted that the majority of business owners and managers in the hospitality sector have “taken a diligent approach to conform with government regulations and guidance”.

To meet hygiene and physical distancing measures, venues have been forced to remodel their premises, install new equipment and overhaul staff training to ensure venues are safe.

Macleod added: “Hospitality businesses have not been responsible for Covid transmissions in any meaningful way, but they continue to bear the brunt of massively damaging restrictions.

“They are too often the victims of alarming rhetoric and specious innuendo. Their future, and the livelihoods of their employees, is at risk if they are forced to shoulder any more burdens introduced on the back of misleading and misguided calls for further restrictions.”

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