McVeigh, who is chairman and an investor in The Breakfast Club and Butchies Fried Chicken, told The Morning Advertiser's sister title MCA that it was time to get back to business and get the economy moving again, and suggested the British pub could be a symbol of this recovery from the damage caused by lockdown, in what he has described as ‘Project Pint’.
McVeigh said hospitality businesses, as places for communities to socialise, meet and relax, could play a part in relaying messages of reassurance to the public that the outside world – and their venues – were safe.
He told MCA: “As an industry, it’s very difficult because if we’re seen to be going too fast, we can look heartless, like we’re not bothered about saving people’s grandmothers lives and so on.
“On the other hand, we do have a role to play in terms of communicating this message that we’ve got to end the FOGO, we have to end ‘project fear’ and be truthful about the negligible risks that the virus holds for the vast majority of the population.
“We’ve got to get people back out again because there are a huge number of people who are sitting at home, afraid. The evidence is clear – people will not go to hospital when they are seriously ill – A&E admission are down by half – and teachers and parents won’t go back to school so our children are not being educated.
“Mental health is in free-fall and domestic violence at an all-time high. And, with each passing day, the hidden millions of post-Covid unemployed grow larger.
“The cure is becoming worse than the disease, so you’ve got to believe that getting people out and about and back into the community is important.”
McVeigh said while few hospitality leaders supported his position publicly – because they did not want to be seen to be going against public sentiment – increasing numbers did so in private.
The former pub boss said the latest data, such as the death figures and infections rates – and with London, in particular, now ‘almost in the clear’ – should support a faster easing of lockdown measures. He added that any interpretation of the data shows that the disease is not dangerous for most people. “As Luke Johnson pointed out on Newsnight, you have a greater chance of drowning than you do of dying from Covid if you are a healthy person under the age of 60.”
McVeigh pointed to operators such as BrewDog and Oakman Inns for promoting positive solutions about ways to reopen and reassure customers of their social distancing precautions.
While acknowledging that polls show public opinion was a “million miles” from his own views, he said the collective mood of the country was beginning to shift and that sections of the press have now pivoted to strongly advocating a speedier relaxation, in particular the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Sun.
He said: “The biggest threat to the hospitality industry’s recovery is fear. Our messaging has got to be very careful. We need to be clear that our top priority is social distancing, the safety of staff and customers.
“But if we can get enough messaging out there: that it’s safe outside, that it’s our patriotic duty to go out to restaurants and pubs, that our staff are hospitality heroes, then this awful, destructive anxiety can be alleviated, and I think the Government will follow the people out of lockdown. As Churchill said, ‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ ”
McVeigh warned there was a growing sense of urgency on the need reopen the economy or risk deepening the financial turmoil.
He added: “We’re lagging four weeks behind Europe on reopening and a month is a hell of a long time. It’s another month of catastrophic losses in which many companies are going to go bankrupt, perhaps as many as half of the companies in the sector.”
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