We drove past a few pubs today, in between a fun-packed afternoon of shopping at the Range (I stayed in the car) and the aquatic section of a local garden centre. My local pub, the Beaufort, seemed to be well-populated and socially distanced, the Lamb at Iron Acton looked like an exercise in misery as people sheltered from the heavy drizzle under an ersatz outdoor covering. Given that pubs are rarely the same anywhere means, I guess, you can choose the type that suits you best. I have booked, and now cancelled, a booking for Monday night in my local because the prospect of an evening of (necessary) social distancing from other people doesn’t appeal. If my partner want a quiet drink on our own, we might as well take one at home.
I have mixed feelings about reopening so many things. In an ideal world, we would surely wait until COVID-19 was no longer active in the community but this is not an ideal world and the government has concluded to take a calculated, or reckless, depending on your point of view, gamble that the country will not suddenly have another big spike of cases. The evidence from other places around the world, including America, Japan and South Korea, suggest big spikes are highly likely and inevitable once bars are reopened.
The spike of new cases is not my reason for avoiding pubs per se. I am not going to do that. But, since Dominic Cummings took his family 264 miles to stay in his country pile in Durham, I now interpret government rules to suit my own life and to manage risk on my own terms. There are pubs I would like to visit in Bristol and if I know I can pretty well guarantee the safety of my family, my friends and myself, I’m up for a pint. In other words, I want the pub experience to actually feel like, well, a pub experience.
These days, in any case, I visit pubs infrequently. I don’t particularly enjoy loud and crowded pubs and I don’t like the cost of a night in the pub. If I wanted to have four pints of my favourite lager in my local, I would not have a great deal of change from £18. If I bought four large bottles of the same lager at Asda, it would cost me six quid and if I drink them at home – obviously not on the same night, oh no – I am not likely to catch COVID-19 or get a call saying someone in the pub had it so I would need to self-isolate for 14 long days.
I truly hope that my natural pessimism is unfounded and that the virus will begin to fizzle out, certainly to lower levels than we face today. You could say that prime minister Dominic Cummings and his deputy Boris Johnson are between a rock and a hard place and would be damned whether they opened the pubs or left them closed. I don’t buy that. Britain’s COVID-19 disaster has been made worse by the sheer ineptitude of Cummings, Johnson and the rest of this shambolic government. If anything else, they are reaping the ill rewards of incompetence, dither and, frankly, gross irresponsibility.
My guess is that things could go very wrong in the weeks ahead. Even now, as the pubs reopen, along with just about everything else, the R rate is up around one. If it goes above one, the next lockdown could be very soon indeed. In that case, we would continue the unwanted record for having the highest death rates and the worst affected economy in the civilised world.