Patrols or no patrols, social distancing in pubs won’t work

by Colin Campbell

ENVIRONMENTAL health officials backed up by police officers were “on patrol” in Inverness city centre after the pubs fully reopened on Wednesday.

Social distancing in city centre pubs on Saturday night…what are the chances?

A council spokesman said: “The environmental health service calls on all pubs, bars, restaurants and retail premises to keep in mind their responsibilities and ensure that physical distancing and other public health measures outlined in the Scottish Government guidance are properly implemented. Our officers are conducting joint patrols with our partners Police Scotland in Inverness city centre to engage and provide reassurance to businesses and customers alike but also to respond to any issues where non-compliance is identified.”

This no doubt was a gesture with good intentions.

But if a main part of it was focused on reopened bars a gesture is what it was – and a pretty unconvincing one at that.

Going “on patrol” at daytime during the week is all very well.

But will environmental health officials also be “on patrol” in the city centre on Friday and Saturday night to monitor compliance with social distancing in bars then. And if so, what do they expect to find? And if they try and intervene, what reaction do they expect to get?

Last weekend was the last one of four months of silence and emptiness in the city centre.

This weekend promises to be very different.

Revellers will flood back into the centre for the first weekend of reopening in large numbers. And there’s every likelihood that silence and emptiness will be replaced by an upsurge of “boisterous” behaviour – to put it at its mildest – that characterised the centre at night every weekend before lockdown.

It will be back to the good old days – or the bad old days – depending on your perspective.

What price social distancing then?

Some establishments may make cursory attempts to maintain it by spacing out tables.

But the straightforward reality is that drinking and social distancing don’t go together.

And attempts to enforce it will be futile.

Even last Wednesday afternoon in one part of town there was the starkly contrasting spectacle of shoppers leaving a store wearing face masks and outside the pub opposite a group of thirsty drinkers gathered together on the pavement for a smoke, with any concerns among them about social distancing having decanted to the moon.

No number of warnings, guidelines and decrees will overrule the fact that social distancing in the vast majority of pubs will be unenforceable and completely ignored by most customers.

“Patrols” may send out some kind of message.

But it seems futile to try and maintain the fiction that when push comes to shove – literally – in most city centre pubs this weekend, virus concerns won’t be forgotten and it’ll be back to raucous and crowded business as usual.

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