Hospitality is on the brink of collapse again and a radical rethink of covid policy placing less emphasis on testing and more on symptoms and hospital admissions is needed if the Government doesn’t want to lose it for good, the industry’s boss has warned.
As covid numbers topped 3,000 yesterday, many cafés, restaurants and takeaways were closed due to virus cases in the already Brexit-hit workforce - and Jersey Hospitality Association Head Simon Soar fears there’ll be many more to come.
“We’re facing risks left, right and centre at the moment. We surveyed [around 100 JHA members] at the end of last week to find out the state of play.
“Out of those surveyed, over 50% had staff off currently because of covid. 81% of those with staff off had had to reduce their offering – whether service times or menus.
“Furthermore, 7% are closed – they simply don’t have the staff to operate and that could get worse.”
Pictured: Jersey Hospitality Association Head Simon Soar.
He added: “We did an average of all the businesses who had responded and, bearing in mind these are large hotels to small operations, out of all of them, there was an average of four members of staff off.”
Mr Soar said there were also concerns about the survival of hotels, which, unlike food venues, cannot simply shut overnight – “they have a duty of care to their guests.”
But the key issue, he said, was that “most fed back that the staff off are asymptomatic or have such mild symptoms that, had this been another time, it would not have been an issue.”
Mr Soar said he found it “terrifying” to see the Government apparently reversing from its “living with covid” mantra, with masks having returned as a legal requirement today and Ministers currently discussing introducing further restrictions.
“We’ve all put our arms on the line and got the vaccine, we’ve all done everything we can to be part of the movement out of this,” he said.
“Personally, would I have got a vaccine with little clinical trial time? I did it as I saw it as for the greater good of the island; we can restart our economy, good is going to come out of this.
“We have all stepped up and lots of people who don’t necessarily agree with it have done it with the rationale, ‘Let’s get back our island to where it was.””
Pictured: Simon Soar believes we should pay more attention to hospitalisation rates.
To his mind, the solution lies in a radical rethink of the island’s covid strategy, which involves mass testing, including the hospitality workforce, which undergoes lateral flow testing every week. He previously suggested direct contacts should only be tested if symptomatic.
“We need to stop testing people to the level we are – it is far too high.
“Personally, I think if people are really not well, you should test and treat them accordingly. But there are people out there who are completely asymptomatic. The whole point of the vaccine is about reducing the impact of what covid does to you… That’s why we were told to do it.”
Mr Soar further argued that more attention must be paid to hospitalisation rates. There are currently 12 people with covid there currently – far lower than during the second wave of covid.
“It’s a completely different scenario [than in the second wave], and yet they’re treating it in the same way.”
Introducing new restrictions or maintaining the status quo, Mr Soar said, risked putting the industry, which is already in a “precarious position”, through a “fourth winter” and inflicting “permanent damage” on the sector and economy.
This, he said, could also hit the island’s connectivity.
“Do you enjoy being able to fly to different places?... We will be severely restricted in flights… Watch the cost of them rise.”
The JHA is currently in discussions with the Government about potential future support, which Mr Soar declined to comment on.
Pictured: The JHA Head said the Co-Funded Payroll Scheme, which is due to expire at the end of August, is far from adequate.
He noted, however, that the current Co-Funded Payroll Scheme, which is due to expire at the end of August, is far from adequate.
“At most, it’s 80%, and it’s very optimistic to say that the support hits the level. If you’re not making any money and paying 20% of costs, after two years, where do you find the money for that? This isn’t about wealth – this is about survival.”
Further rebutting any suggestion that he was arguing for “wealth over health”, he went on to explain that business difficulties can lead to mental health difficulties for some individuals.
Mr Soar further emphasised that the difficulties caused by asymptomatic individuals being forced to quarantine were being felt outside of hospitality – and said he was concerned that such impacts could hit the island’s critical infrastructure.
“What if some of our Emergency services end up with too many cases and they can’t sustain themselves? At what point do we turn around and say, we’ve a very stark situation?”
The Government has always maintained that its covid strategy has been about maintaining a “balance of harms”.
Mr Soar said he felt this wasn’t the case at all.
“There is no balance on our side of things, there is no understanding of what they are about to lose.”
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