Opinion

Isolation notices: The shark in the shallows

By Tim Tomlinson, operator of the White Cross, Merchants 1688, the Stonewall Tap, Lancaster, Lancashire

- Last updated on GMT

Greater impact: ‘Just as I was starting to make a few quid for the first time in 15 months it has been completely wiped out and more’
Greater impact: ‘Just as I was starting to make a few quid for the first time in 15 months it has been completely wiped out and more’

Related tags: Tenanted + leased, Staff, Coronavirus, Training, Multi-site pub operators

I am sure everyone in the sector is extremely happy about the news we will be allowed to open more or less as normal from 19 July.

However, in the past two weeks my business has suffered far greater impact from Test and Trace requiring staff to isolate than from the restrictions that have remained in place since we reopened in April.

Bar and kitchen staff isolating due to contact with a person with a positive test, parents having to look after their children who are being told to isolate from school and waiting staff and kitchen porters who are still at school all being forced to stay at home – each has had a huge impact.    

And because of the social nature of our business and the age profile of many of our staff, when one gets the Test and Trace text message, many of them do.

Short and long-term implications 

We have had to close the kitchen at short notice and call guests for fully booked nights to tell them their reservations cannot be honoured.   

Last week, we had several days when we closed fully as we had no senior staff and others only opening half day, restricting food services and having to turn customers away. All this even though staff are showing daily negative lateral flow tests and, in many cases, have also had negative PCR tests.   

Last week one venue’s sales were 78% down versus the previous five weeks, the other down 28%.    

Just as I was starting to make a few quid for the first time in 15 months it has been completely wiped out and more. And aside from the short-term losses the longer-term impact on trade is also huge with regular customer now booking elsewhere.  

Unpredictable and less manageable situation

At the same time, all our rates bills are starting to be charged and we now have to pay 10% of furlough charges on top of pension and National Insurance contributions – all this alongside increased food and staff costs.   

It’s just not viable unless this very real unpredictable and therefore much less manageable situation of widespread isolations is changed to a Test and Release process or similar.  

However, as much as we want to return to the old normal, we had learned to live with the new rules and were just about getting by. If we have to continue to follow the current isolating rules as they are being applied, even if staff are fit well and testing negative, the sudden and dramatic closures will create much more significant damage to our businesses and sector.    

‘Unseen swimming shark’

It does appear there is a there is a continued and quite quick rise in cases at the moment, which is predominantly among the under 30s – the vast majority of the labour force in our sector.  

My fear is that things could actually get a lot worse before they get better for us, even if the Government figures at a national level seem okay.  

Getting hit by Test and Trace isolation notices feels this is like an unseen shark swimming the waters, and if you have not been bitten yet be very carefully cos when it does, it hurts.

Related topics: Other operators

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