UK pub owners call for looser social distancing rules as Irish publicans await clarity

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UK pub operators have called for a halving of social distancing rules when that country’s bars reopen; while publicans here are still awaiting clarity on what rules will be imposed when Irish pubs tentatively reopen on August 10.

Britain is tentatively looking at reopening its pubs in July. Two of the UK’s leading pub groups – Fuller’s and Shepherd Neame – have urged the country’s government to relax social distancing rules and allow for only a one metre distance between customers rather than two metres.

Shepherd Neame boss Jonathan Neame was quoted as saying the two metre rule would be “profoundly challenging” to maintain, meaning a lot of pubs might not reopen. Fuller’s CEO Simon Emeny said halving social distancing to one metre - in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines - would allow four times more customers into pubs.

Emma McClarkin, CEO of the British Beer and Pub Association, said using one metre for social distancing “would enable many more pubs to viably reopen”.

Many UK pub groups have entered negotiations with lenders for additional credit. Mitchells and Butlers – which owns the O’Neill’s chain and is partially backed by Irish financiers JP McManus and John Magnier – has had its previously granted temporary waiver against possible default due to enforced closure extended until June 8.

Here, the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) said it is still awaiting clarity on what rules publicans will have to adhere to when Ireland’s pubs finally reopen – a date currently pencilled in for August 10.

Earlier this month the VFI issued the Government with a list of proposals aimed at making it possible for pubs to function under the ongoing social restrictions imposed to guard against the spread of the Covid-19 virus. However, it claims it has received no reply.

Among its proposals was the adoption of WHO guidelines, which suggest a one metre gap between people in public, rather than rules put forward by the HSE, which has promoted the two-metre rule.

While the VFI has stopped short of calling for only allowing for one metre between pub customers, it said the WHO guidelines would allow for four people per every ten square metres – or 40 people for every 100 square metres. 

VFI spokesman Brian Foley said pub owners need clarity from the Government as many are planning to renovate and retrofit their premises in order to meet the new health and safety standards. He warned that many pubs across Ireland simply won’t be able to reopen as social distancing rules will make it commercially unviable to trade.

JD Wetherspoon, which owns more than 900 pubs across the UK and Ireland – refused to comment on the social distancing debate and gave no timeframe for work to be completed on its in-progress Irish pub developments. However, it said it was keen to reopen its pubs.