With great trepidation, my wife and I took a break in Cornwall last week.
I admit trepidation isn't the word one usually uses when thinking about holidays and relaxation, but I should make you aware that our last trip to Cornwall was in March 2020, when we watched in disbelief as Mr Johnson announced that, "people should avoid going to pubs, but pubs can remain open". Fast forward to October 2020 and we had a definite sense of foreboding; Coronavirus cases were rising and areas of the UK were facing increased levels of restrictions. "Is it us?", we thought, "Do we cause this stuff by planning holidays in Cornwall?!"
Thankfully we didn't have to make an early return home this time and Padstow was wonderful, giving us our first opportunity to relax having spent the last seven months battling to save our company.
I did however have two experiences that provided me with a stark contrast in how different sectors have been affected by Coronavirus restrictions.
On the first evening of arrival, I went shopping for supplies in a well-known national supermarket located on the outskirts of the town. You'll know it if you know the area as it's the only supermarket nearby.
I entered the store with face covering in place and was a little surprised to find no attempt to manage the flow of customers entering. No one checking that customers were using sanitiser before entry. No visible sanitisation of basket or trolley handles. No requirement to scan the track and trace QR code.
Once inside the smallish shop I was immediately struck by the number of people inside. Little evidence of social distancing here in the narrow aisles. Feeling distinctly uncomfortable, I grabbed only the essential items for our evening meal and hastened to the checkouts. Two adjacent tills were in operation which forced customers to queue alongside one another, less than a metre apart. Perspex screens were in place, but one of the till operators wasn't wearing a face covering.
All in all, a very dissatisfactory experience of a national business keeping 'Covid-19 Secure'.
The following day, we went for lunch at The Old Custom House, a St Austell brewery-owned pub at the corner of the famous Padstow harbour. My experience couldn't have
been more different from the previous day. We were greeted at the door by a member of the team, face covering in place, who asked if we would scan the QR code and use the hand sanitiser station before entering. Inside, I was struck by how few tables there were, all laid out at appropriate distances from one another; we've visited this pub many times and are used to seeing it packed full of people. For a lunchtime session on a blue-skied Sunday in mid-October, this was definitely quiet. Once seated at the table, we removed our own face coverings and were told by the member of staff that there was an App that could be used to order food and drinks directly to the table, or that he'd happily take our order. A disposable menu was offered and I set about placing the order for our drinks using the App. The drinks arrived very quickly, as did the food when we ordered that too. We witnessed exceptional service and strict hygiene measures throughout our visit with every single customer being patiently told what the rules were and tables being wiped clean after departure.
The entire St Austell experience was the polar opposite of my supermarket visit. At The Old Custom House, we not only felt 'Covid-19 Secure', but also impressed with the attentive service.
I accept that the two experiences are one-off. Every retail and hospitality outlet has good days and bad days. But the biggest thing that struck me was how well the pub had implemented the new restrictions. It's hardly surprising; local licensing officers throughout the land have ensured that fines have been imposed against those hospitality venues not following the rules. The media and Government ministers have repeatedly blamed pubs and restaurants for spreading the virus. Talk about ensuring that an entire industry is highly sensitised towards following the guidelines!
I'm not suggesting the restrictions should be relaxed for pubs and restaurants. Far from it; I believe that all other sectors should be aspiring to deliver the same standards expected of hospitality. And the same pressure should be felt by others too.
"Police in England to enforce Covid pub rules with fines and arrests - Forces given powers to punish bars and restaurants if tables too close or larger groups mingling", reads a recent headline in The Guardian. "Pubs and restaurants take blame for UK’s Covid spike", states another from the Financial Times. We've all read many more like these and it's understandable that the industry feels pilloried.
If every sector, from supermarkets to schools, universities, factories, retail and public transport, faced the same level of focus and expectation to deliver high standards of Covid security, wouldn't we all be in a better place? Wouldn't cases be lower?
This country doesn't need a second lock-down. It just needs to learn to follow the rules.