Media scrutiny in time to come will undoubtedly unravel much about what could have been done to lessen the impact from Covid-19. The hospitality industry across the UK has paid, and will continue to pay, a high price for the outcomes from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now questions are starting to be asked about the measures taken to date, and those questions centre on the date of lockdown. More specifically, was lockdown too late, and would an earlier lockdown have reduced the impact from Covid-19.
We have reviewed a documentary by the BBC, screened on May 11 by Reporter Mark Daly, part of BBC Scotland’s Disclosure series.
The programme pins the start of the first cases of the Covid-19 pandemic in Scotland at the door of the Hilton Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh. The programme doesn’t in any way criticise or place any blame on the hotel. It is no more than a location pin for an event.
A conference hosted by sportswear giant Nike took place at the Hilton Carlton Hotel in Edinburgh on February 26 and 27. Twenty five cases of Covid-19 were traced back to the conference.
Health authorities in Scotland were reportedly informed of the potential outbreak before March 1 when the first Covid-19 case was ‘officially’ recorded, but chose not to make the information available to the public.
The BBC documentary makes for a disturbing watch. The benefit of hindsight can be applied, but what is alarming is the amount of scientific information available at the time, and lack of action upon it, requiring no hindsight.
The UK Government briefings at the time, early March, are shown in the documentary. Claims that the Government were underplaying the threat of Covid-19 now seem like understatements.
An interview with Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Health at the University of Edinburgh is enlightening. She states: ‘we’ (the Government) should have been more actively combating the pandemic in mid-February.
Professor Sridhar goes on to say that ‘we’ were treating Covid-19 like a flu outbreak and she questions why actions weren’t taken sooner. The focus on prioritising healthcare capacity ahead of keeping contagion low was one such question, that seems now all too pertinent.
Professor Dame Anne Glover, Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland 2006-11 is also interviewed. She refers to her visit to Northern Italy in mid-February and her welcome at Bologna Airport.
She was met on arrival by officials in full protective PPE with thermometers testing every passenger on arrival for Covid-19.
On her return to Edinburgh Airport on February 21 she assumed she would be met by similar officials and similar testing. She was not, much to her surprise and concern.
Measure twice cut once – Stark comparisons
Reflecting on her impressions at the time, she says that the UK Government were mistakenly only ‘monitoring it’ and wrongly assuring the public in saying, ‘there was no cause for concern’.
At the same time Italy was giving us an all too vivid preview of what was coming.
The reflections from Professor Dame Anne Glover can now also be applied to Heathrow, which is today, and every day throughout the pandemic, allowing an influx of circa 15,000 people per day, with zero health monitoring or checks, unfettered access into the UK.
Nicola Sturgeon is now under some pressure in Scotland as politicians and media question her judgement. The calls come from her apparently having knowledge of the Covid-19 outbreak following the Nike event at the hotel, and not acting on it sooner.
Mass gatherings were banned in Scotland on March 16 and lockdown was implemented on March 23. These dates precede, by more than two weeks, the fateful conference that is now being labelled the epicentre of Covid-19 in Scotland.
As we all watch Governments make mistakes that seem with only a modicum of scrutiny to beg questioning. Do hospitality businesses need to ask some similar questions of themselves before opening up again for business?
The UK Government announced last Sunday easing of some lockdown restrictions, and a roadmap of further relaxation, if scientific criteria is met, primarily the R value remaining below 1.
Hospitality businesses have already borne the brunt of lockdown in the UK, travel and tourism businesses similarly.
Getting hospitality businesses ready to emerge from the lockdown will be a costly and difficult process.
Measure twice cut once – Now it’s your turn…
The human cost of closure will see a much reduced hospitality industry emerge with much a reduced headcount. So, the emotional cost of adjustment will be high.
The economic cost is already significant and too much for many, and the early days of reopening will see a much smaller marketplace to trade in.
The recovery will be fragile and as such businesses need to ensure they react to a reopened market by reopening at the right time. Optimistic rhetoric from the Government will not suffice.
A false start could see costs incurred for nothing.
Some hospitality businesses closed prior to the lockdown and official guidance from the Government to do so – D&D London announced immediate temporary closure of all UK restaurants.
Being ahead of the game will have saved companies like these much money. Closing carefully in a considered way and in advance of being forced to close, allowed plans to be made and executed precisely to budgeted analysis.
Some hospitality businesses resisted closing to the very last minute, and then protested about it. Some even tried to campaign to stay open.
The last out we suspect will also be hungriest to be first back in.
Opening on a false start, or as soon as possible, and possibly with one eye closed to public opinion, may see the false start being the last for some.
Covid-19 has been underestimated by Governments around the world. The UK having the second highest death toll in the world would certainly seem to have underestimated it.
Hospitality business will have one opportunity to take their place back on the starting line. It may be wise to let some front runners set the pace and learn from them. Whilst unambitious and not market leading as a strategy, survival is the objective for now.
So, if you are thinking about dipping your toes into untested waters, our suggestion is, it may prove wise to let others, eager to do so, go first.
The full documentary can be seen here. We think this will set the documentary tone in years ahead.
Many companies are doing extensive planning and preparation. Yesterday we spoke with Ian Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, Bartlett Mitchell who are doing precisely that, here’s the conversation.