Examine questions whether or not pubs can successfully forestall COVID-19 transmission danger

Study questions whether pubs can effectively prevent COVID-19 transmission risk

Professor Niamh Fitzgerald. Photo credit: University of Stirling

A new unique study has questioned whether pub owners can effectively and consistently prevent the transmission of COVID-19 – after researchers found risks in licensed premises last summer.

Led by the University of Stirling, the research was conducted from May to August last year in a variety of licensed premises that reopened after a nationwide lockdown and operated under detailed government guidance to reduce the risk of transmission.

While the observed venues had made physical and operational changes upon reopening, the researchers found that practices varied and a number of incidents of greater concern were observed – including close physical interaction between customers and staff that was often associated with alcohol poisoning and seldom occurred effectively stopped by the staff.

The new study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, is the first in the world to look at how COVID-19 measures work in licensed premises. Your findings will inform governments, public health experts and policymakers in the UK and the UK that other countries are looking at the impact the pandemic has on hospitality and the risks of lifting restrictions.

Professor Niamh Fitzgerald, Director of the Institute for Social Marketing and Health at the University of Stirling, led the research, which was funded by the Scottish Government's Chief Scientist Office.

Professor Fitzgerald said, "Our study examined and observed business practices and behaviors of customers and employees in licensed premises in the summer of 2020 to understand if and how COVID-19 transmission risks can be managed in alcohol-serving environments. We have the store interviewed owners and agents prior to reopening to understand the challenges. When the pubs reopened after the UK's initial lockdown last July, our team visited premises to see government action to reduce the risk of transmission in the hospitality industry in work in practice, including incidents that could increase these risks.

"Companies expressed an intention to work within the guidelines, but there were commercial and practical challenges to making this a reality. Significant efforts were made to change the layout of the beams when it reopened and it appeared fine in many of the premises work, but issues were common, including staff not wearing PPE, managing toilets, queues, and other “pinch points.” We also observed several incidents of greater concern – including customers yelling multiple households and employees hugging or repeatedly interacting closely with them – that were seldom addressed by employees.

"We concluded that, despite the efforts of bar operators and government instructions, potentially significant risks of COVID-19 transmission persisted in at least a significant minority of the bars observed, particularly when customers were drunk. The closure of premises can However, eliminating these risks also creates significant difficulties for business owners and employees. "

The UK entered national lockdown on March 20 last year. In Scotland, licensed premises were allowed to reopen interiors from July 15, with strict security rules in place to minimize the risk of transmission. Appropriate signage had to be installed in rooms with a physical distance of one meter, all customers had to be seated, employees had to wear face covers and improved ventilation and noise protection measures had to be introduced. Following a major eruption in early August related to licensed space in Aberdeen, law has mandated that customer data be collected for contact tracing, and guidelines for queue, stand and table service have been strengthened.


Before the restrictions were lifted, the research team conducted interviews with stakeholders – including representatives from key relevant Scottish and UK trade associations – to assess the sector's thoughts and feelings regarding the implementation of COVID-19 measures in licensed premises.

While companies expressed willingness to work within government guidelines to protect customers and employees, build consumer confidence, and facilitate a return to retail, the interviews conducted in May and June also revealed economic challenges, including financial implications and the risk of compromising the customer experience.

Respondents felt that there are factors that help mitigate the risk of transmission, including the existing legal requirements on the premises (e.g. prohibition of sales to drunk customers). Industry expertise in dealing with customer behavior, including drunkenness; new norms such as only allow table service; and public concern about COVID-19 generally leads to more responsible behavior. They recognized the need for staff to be trained and qualified to implement the new measures – but also believed that some customers may not appreciate or respond to interventions.

Observations on Licensed Premises

In July and August, 29 observations were made from licensed premises, with researchers monitoring the premises for up to two hours while impersonating customers. The study found that:

  • The venues had introduced new layouts, signage, queuing systems, noise and toilet management, and provided hand sanitizing stations – but stations were rarely used. Two of the venues routinely administered disinfectant to customers upon entry.
  • Most venues required customers to provide contact information to help track contacts. Nine companies did not observe this, however – including one venue that was visited after it was mandated by the Scottish government in August.
  • While employees in most locations wore Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), in some cases employees did not wear PPE, wore inappropriately masks, or removed them to speak to other employees or customers.
  • Most venues separated their tables a meter or more or had partitions installed between the booths. However, some had tables closer together than those without partitions.
  • One-way systems were implemented to regulate customer flow – although this measure was sometimes ignored – and pinch points were problematic in almost all venues, as entrances, corridors, doors or counter areas created bottlenecks and gatherings that were often unchallenged. Fewer than half of the venues offered table service only – avoiding the possibility of queuing for bar service – and at least one venue observed in July had a continuous queue one meter between tables.
  • Fewer than half of the venues had a basic system (e.g. a sign on a door) in place to limit the number of customers entering the toilets. However, most had not taken steps to maintain physical distancing in these areas without condemning cubicles or sinks. Overcrowding and poor physical distancing have been observed as a problem in toilet areas in some premises.


A large number of incidents that could increase the risk of transmission were observed in all but three locations, with multiple incidents reported in most cases. Incidents identified as more worrying due to the repetitive or continuous nature of the potential risk, the large number of customers involved, or the involvement of employees were observed in 11 locations. These included: various combinations of singing, shouting, or playing music; Shuffling between groups; stand and move around the bar without distancing yourself; Clients taking photos with other clients and employees; Shaking hands or hugging others who didn't seem to be in their household. In particular, in all but one of the venues visited in August, customers were singing or shouting loudly with just one example of effective staff intervention to suppress customer noise.

The research team identified factors that interacted to cause more serious incidents, including: physical facility setup and operation, social atmosphere, customer behavior, alcohol consumption, and staff practices. All but one of these incidents were observed in the evening; All but two took place in premises that were in a town or village rather than a town. all but three permitted bar service (instead of just table service); and customers often appeared to be regulars.

No interference by staff in incidents or attempts to enforce restrictions was observed in most of the premises. In some cases, the employees intervened carefree, for example by gently or playfully reprimanding customers. However, such interventions were largely ineffective. Enforcement by outside agencies – such as environmental health or police officers – was not observed at any of the venues.

The research report notes that the Scottish Government guidelines do not accurately describe how bar or security personnel can be expected to effectively and safely intervene in distancing customer violations or in managing situations that would normally involve close contact between customers and employees require – such as the removal of very drunk or belligerent customers from the premises.


Professor Fitzgerald said, "Our study makes a unique contribution by providing the first evidence, including direct observational data on how premises in the practice were operated if they were allowed to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, our results suggest Reasons for uncertainty about the extent to which new rules can be consistently and effectively implemented in a sector where interaction between tables, households and strangers is the norm and alcohol is routinely consumed.

"Despite the efforts of licensed premises and detailed government instructions, potentially significant risks of COVID-19 transmission existed in a significant minority of the bars observed – especially among intoxicated customers. Closures, curfews or bans on alcohol sales are more likely to be necessary Controlling the spread of viruses when such risks are unacceptable, can be reduced quickly and inexpensively through support and / or sanctions for the operator of the premises. Such blanket measures can also have advantages in terms of protecting staff from occupational exposure and reducing pressure on Emergencies have services due to alcohol-related injuries or disruptions, but it also needs to address the impact of closures on businesses, economic activity, employee hardship and ownership in the sector, as well as the risks iken are respected that result from the diversion of alcohol consumption into the home. "

Follow the latest news on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak

More information:
Management of COVID-19 Transmission Risks in Bars: An Interview and Observational Study, Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (2021). DOI: 10.15288 / jsad.2021.82.42

Provided by
University of Stirling

The study asks whether pubs can effectively prevent the risk of COVID-19 transmission (2021, February 15).
accessed on February 15, 2021
from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2021-02-pubs-effectively-covid-transmission.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from fair treatment for the purpose of private study or research, no
Part may be reproduced without written permission. The content is provided for informational purposes only.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here