JD Wetherspoon boss says closing UK pubs will not stop coronavirus – The Guardian
Nationwide shutdown has overridden Tim Martin’s vow to keep his 867 branches open
First published on Fri 20 Mar 2020 11.25 GMT
The JD Wetherspoon boss, Tim Martin, has said closing pubs, bars and restaurants will not help stop coronavirus.
Speaking before Boris Johnson announced the closure of every pub and restaurant in the country, Martin had vowed to keep his 867 UK pubs open as long as possible.
He said: “My instinct is that closure won’t save lives but will cost thousands of jobs and create unsustainable costs for the UK.”
He said London pubs had been quiet “but supermarkets are often very busy in the vicinity. There are still people out and about who would welcome a drink or meal and other facilities pubs and restaurants provide.
“As I understand it, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea’s successful approach to the virus has not involved closure.”
The prime minister’s shutdown includes cafes, restaurants, theatres, nightclubs, leisure centres and cinemas.
Martin defended his right to issue public pronouncements on the best way to contain the outbreak, denying that weighing in on pandemic containment and keeping the chain’s pubs open were irresponsible.
He said: “Am I out of my depth? We’re a democracy, aren’t we? I’m obviously not an expert but I’ve got a view and that’s all I can say. People can accept it or not. Even if you’re not an epidemiologist you can look at what other countries do and weigh up what’s happened.
“More people have caught the virus in one building, parliament, than in all our pubs combined.”
The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.
The UN agency advises people to:
Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. Check with your local authorities for up-to-date information about the situation in your area.
In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.
If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
Martin, who has previously issued lengthy diatribes on Brexit, maintained his defiant stance after releasing a statement this week saying the government would be wrong to prevent people visiting pubs and restaurants, and advocating “group immunity” as a strategy for the UK.
He said that people getting the virus early and becoming immune could be beneficial in the long term in dealing with any future spikes in cases.
“One of the cabinet, Nadine Dorries, has had the virus. She’s recovered now but having someone in the cabinet who’s resistant to it is a plus.”
Before Friday, the government had asked the population to stay away from pubs and bars, but in the prime minister’s daily press conference at 5pm he said all cafes, bars, pubs and restaurants must close that night, with nightclubs, theatres, gyms, cinemas and leisure centres also shut down on the same timescale.
Wetherspoons had said its UK pubs would stay open unless ordered otherwise, but with precautions in place, such as no standing at the bar, frequent surface wipedowns and customers being asked to sit far apart where possible.
The group’s seven pubs in Ireland have been closed under a voluntary agreement with the country’s pubs trade body, while one of its UK pubs, in Enfield, north London, had issued a “regulars only” rule to keep numbers down, said Martin.
He described the outlook for pubs as “fucking awful” but insisted it was survivable.
Visits to pubs dropped dramatically following the government’s statement that people should avoid them, and Martin warned that a long-term shutdown could be terminal for any company in the sector.
“Even if you’ve got the greatest pub company in the world, you depend on the doors being open,” he said. “If they shut for long enough the entire hospitality industry, never mind Wetherspoons, will be in serious trouble.”
Martin said 1,600 of his 43,000 staff were on sick pay because they were self-isolating, adding that he could not rule out job losses.
“We’ll have to see in the next few weeks,” he added.
He said Johnson, who he backed in the Conservative leadership race, had taken a “reasonably sensible path” during the crisis so far.
Martin was speaking as JD Wetherspoon announced another set of strong results for the six months to 26 January, a period before the pandemic took hold.
Sales were 4.9% higher at £933m, with pre-tax profits up 15% to £57.9m excluding one-off items that the company did not detail, but down 14% to £42m including them.
Martin said it was “impossible to provide realistic guidance” on performance in the rest of the year, given uncertainty over the length of the Covid-19 crisis.