Avoid going viral: should pub operators take extra measures against coronavirus?

By Alice Leader

- Last updated on GMT

Under the microscope: As the coronavirus continues to spread, MA looks at what your pub can do to help ensure it doesn’t affect you or your staff
Under the microscope: As the coronavirus continues to spread, MA looks at what your pub can do to help ensure it doesn’t affect you or your staff

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Five pub staff members were last month (February) advised to “self-isolate” themselves after a customer – who was unaware they had contracted coronavirus – entered the premises. Should operators be concerned or are there steps they can take to eradicate any potential health issues?

Wuhan, in China, saw most of its businesses, including hospitality venues, close their doors during the coronavirus outbreak, imposing a huge strain on many communities. Now Italy has gone into a strict lock down, seeing all but food shops and pharmacies close down, while several other EU countries have, at the time of an updated to this report (13 March), implemented school closures, as well as a ban on mass gatherings – Ireland and Scotland being two of those placing a ban on mass gatherings.

Need to know: how to help protect your business against coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) labelled the virus as a pandemic and on 12 March the UK Government raised the threat level of the virus from 'contain' to 'delay' and suggested people with a new consistent cough and a high temperature should self-isolate for seven days.

So, should operators be taking extra measures to protect its site and prevent its staff and customers encountering the disease?

The issue first hit our trade when a pub in Hove, East Sussex, had its staff members “self-isolate” themselves after a coronavirus sufferer visited the site.

The city’s local newspaper, The Argus​, reported the five employees who were working on the night the coronavirus victim visited the Grenadier were told to stay at home after pub bosses were contacted by Public Health England (PHE).

The symptoms

You should look for any of the following symptoms in the 14 days after the day you return from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, or Thailand:

  • A cough
  • A high temperature
  • Feeling short of breath

In some cases, this can progress to serious illness, including pneumonia and severe breathing problems.

However, management at the pub, which is part of Mitchells & Butlers’ brand Sizzling Pubs, had been working with PHE and made the decision to remain open.

A spokesperson for Sizzling Pubs said: “We can confirm we were informed by PHE that a member of the public confirmed to have contracted coronavirus visited the Grenadier prior to becoming unwell.

“We have followed the advice and worked closely with PHE, which has advised us that there is minimal ongoing risk of infection to either guests or staff and, as such, the pub remains open for business as usual.”

But the virus still continues to rock the country amid fears of contraction. As of 15 March, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK has reached 1,372 including 35 deaths.

Along with rising cases of the virus in the UK, Britain's on-trade and wider out-of-home sector have felt the impact of corona as more customers avoid visiting hospitality businesses.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I will do everything in my power to keep people in this country safe. We are taking every possible step to control the outbreak of coronavirus.

“NHS staff and others will now be supported with additional legal powers to keep people safe across the country. The transmission of coronavirus would constitute a serious threat so I am taking action to protect the public and isolate those at risk of spreading the virus.”

Someone to look over you

Some simple steps

There are general principles everyone can follow to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses, including:

  • Wash your hands often – with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. This is particularly important after taking public transport
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • If you feel unwell, stay at home, do not attend work or school
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin. Follow the Catch it, Bin it, Kill it code
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home and work environment
  • If you are worried about your symptoms, please call NHS 111. Do not go directly to your GP or other healthcare environment

So while the Government does everything in its power to stop the infection spreading, what are some of the giant pubcos’ thoughts towards the virus so far?

Wells & Co managing director Peter Wells said: “At Wells & Co, the health and safety of our customers and colleagues is paramount. We are monitoring the coronavirus situation on a daily basis, taking our lead from the advice provided by both the Government and the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development.”

Having a health watchdog guide look over us during a national concern can reassure the most paranoid of types. Marc Brennan, a commercial insurance broker from James Hallam, which specialises in insurance for the hospitality sector, said: “By working with Public Health England, the Grenadier was able to keep their guests and stay­ safe, remove the likelihood of any potential legal liability attaching to the business and protect their brand.”

Especially with these new regulations in place, it will give the public confidence that the repatriation of British citizens back to the UK from Hubei, in China, does not increase the risk of further cases in this country.

However, despite with these regulations in place, it appears not everyone is dodging bullets as the virus is still set to have a detrimental e­ffect on other trade companies.

Fortune​ reported that Danish brewer, Carlsberg, which markets beer under brands, including Kronenbourg and Tuborg, said a segment of its China beer sales had been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

The Carlsberg Group expressed, on its global investors call during the week commencing 3 February, that it expects the virus to a­ffect its business negatively.

A Carlsberg spokesperson told ­The Morning Advertiser​: “It is still too early to give an estimate on the full impact as it really depends on how long it will last and how widely it spreads. But we are implementing various initiatives to mitigate the potential risk.”

So, could this be another example of why operators should be wary of potential risk to their staff­ and customers among the pub empire?

Wash your hands

Pub will stay open despite visit by coronavirus sufferer


A Hove pub has confirmed it will be staying open after a guest who has been diagnosed with coronavirus visited.

The Grenadier, which is part of Mitchells & Butlers’ brand Sizzling Pubs, has been working with Public Health England (PHE) and has made the decision to keep the pub open.

A spokesperson for Sizzling Pubs said: “We can confirm we were informed by PHE that a member of the public confirmed to have contracted coronavirus visited the Grenadier prior to becoming unwell.

“We have followed the advice and worked closely with PHE, which has advised us that there is minimal ongoing risk of infection to either guests or staff and, as such, the pub remains open for business as usual.”

Originally published 10 February 2020 – read more here

British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) policy director Andy Tighe simply advised: “Clearly, pubs and their staff need to adopt a common-sense approach, however, the risk to individuals remains low.”

During the Grenadier case, the PHE advised the site on what measures to take in order to make it a safe environment again but taking a common-sense approach, by including some simple precautionary steps, could be helpful.

Tighe advised: “To stop the spread of germs such as coronavirus, individuals should also be upholding their usual high hygiene and cleanliness standards, using the advice in the Catch it, Bin it,Kill it ​campaign.”

Because it’s a new illness, we do not know exactly how the virus spreads, but similar viruses spread by cough droplets, which is why the Government’s campaign is a prime example of how the public can counteract it.

With scares of swine flu, bird flu, norovirus and so on, the Government launched the Catch it, Bin it, Kill it ​campaign to encourage the public to adopt good respiratory and hand hygiene practices and, ultimately, to help stem flu infections.

Most of us will catch a cold at some point, leaving us with a runny nose, a sore throat and a cough – inevitably something you would have witnessed staff members use as an excuse for ‘pulling a sickie’ at some point.

But while your standard cold doesn’t call for quite the same level of concern as the coronavirus, it appears the simple steps from the Government’s campaign to fight ordinary flu, can work just as well with the coronavirus.

Simple and arguably self-explanatory, by advocating the campaign’s three steps at your site could ensure extra safety for your customers and staff:

  • Catch it – Germs spread easily. Always carry tissues and use them to catch your cough or sneeze
  • Bin it – Germs can live for several hours on tissues. Dispose of them as soon as possible
  • Kill it – Hands can transfer germs to any surface you touch. Clean your hands as soon as you can

On a similar topic, British eco-cleaning chemical brand, Delphis Eco, reported it sold out of anti-bacterial hand soaps as public concern grows.

Chief executive Mark Jankovich has tripled his production capabilities in order to meet demand and ensure emergency supplies are available to fulfil orders across the sector.

He said: “The World Health Organisation has declared the virus ‘public enemy number one’. People are worried, businesses are worried – and hotels and restaurants are taking the situation very seriously. It’s not just the out of home market – retail sales are going through the roof too for domestic use. We have upped production by more than 300% in order to meet current demand.

“While the evidence seen so far, indicates coronavirus spreads through close contact with individuals who are infected, personal hygiene is at the forefront of people’s minds who want to take precautionary measures. Anti-bacterial hand soap, and good hand hygiene are key to this”.

Cover your back

As the UK comes to terms with coronavirus, operators would be smart to go over their insurance policies with a fine-tooth comb to check if they are covered certain costs for a virus outbreak.

James Hassam’s Brennan said: “From an insurance perspective, businesses would be well advised to talk to their insurance broker and ask if their policy provides protection for:

  • Loss of revenue following closure on order of a public authority or as a result of an infectious disease
  • Clean up costs following disease, murder or suicide
  • Crisis management costs.”

More advice on your insurance policy covering coronavirus can be read here.

Shield Safety Group, a provider of food, fire and health and safety software, is also aware of the impact of coronavirus within the UK food industry and has shared some advice for operators.

Shield Safety Group chief executive Mark Flanagan said: “We’ve been advising our clients on the best way to handle coronavirus within the food industry, and it must be remembered that the risks in the UK are still minimal.

“However, particularly with food preparation, you cannot be too cautious. Take precautions, like you would with any illness. If staff are ill with symptoms that may be transmittable, they must stay away from work, but that goes for many viruses and is certainly not exclusive to coronavirus.”

“If someone falls ill at your pub, use sensible precautions without causing a panic for other diners and staff. Good food hygiene practices should be stringently observed and you should ensure your cleaning procedures are followed with appropriate disinfectants.

“You should recommend that the customer returns home and inform NHS via 111 as a matter of urgency.”

Medical or paranoia?

Overall, there is plenty of advice and guidance out there to reassure publicans, their staff and their customers that coronavirus can remain under control and contained.

But inevitably, anxiety will continue to creep if the UK continues to see more encounters of the virus, especially in our safe place – the traditional, British pub.

Chua Mui Hoong, opinion editor for Singapore-based The Straits Times, argues that with the spread of the virus, the battle has to be fought on both medical and psychological fronts. Therefore, avoiding paranoia and prejudice is crucial.

It is simple hygiene practices that can counteract a disease like this, just like the procedures to avoid an ordinary cold. While they seem like basic, common-knowledge, ensuring they are followed through as a mandatory scheme at your site could make all the difference.

Perhaps the incident at the Grenadier could be the wakeup call for publicans to ensure these health and safety regulations are implemented.

Related topics Health & safety

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