• Andrew Busby

Last Orders At The Bar

I was in a busy shopping mall the other day and one thing that struck me was how many people were not wearing any kind of face covering; or if they were, it was firmly wrapped around their chin. A case of jumping the 'Freedom Day' gun or more one of mask fatigue?

However, although those without felt more prominent, there was a reassuringly high number of people who continued to wear them. Now, I don't fear Covid any more or less than the many other risks we face every day as part of the normal course of living, but it seems that many of us have become intoxicated with our new found sense of purpose and responsibility.

In a recent survey of over one thousand people conducted by Retail Reflections and Alive Retail, nearly 70% of people said that after 19 July, they will either continue to wear a face covering at all times or do so when in enclosed or crowded spaces. But is that a good thing?

As always, there are a number of different perspectives although it appears that a straightforward binary view is being adopted by most; those who will continue to wear one and those who will throw theirs in the bin come 19 July.

I'm old enough to remember the 'clunk click, every trip' campaign of the summer of 1970 fronted by Shaw Taylor (only problem is, by 1971 Jimmy Savile was the voice and face of the campaign). The key thing however is that I remember the uproar it caused, 'taking away our freedom' by making us do something that at the time we neither understood nor invested any time in understanding.

It was an affront to our freedom of choice and that was that. But gradually we became inured to the idea and today, whilst there are still those who don't mind the prospect of a close encounter with the windscreen, they are thankfully in the minority. Wearing a seat belt just makes sense.

Wind forward to 2021 and the current 'Mask Wars' which are being enacted. And from 19 July with an added fervour no doubt as there will no longer be a legal requirement, but that we will be 'expected' to wear one. Glad we've got clarity on that.

Whilst personally I loathe wearing one (they steam up my glasses and I still feel self-conscious) in enclosed or crowded spaces I will continue to wear one as a matter of courtesy to others. And from the results of many surveys conducted over the last few weeks, it appears that I will be in the majority in doing so. Which doesn't bode well for those sectors of the economy who rely on sustained numbers to keep their businesses going.

But if the wearing of masks creates polar opinions, the subject of vaccinations, and especially vaccine passports, is off the scale by comparison. Once again, like wearing a face covering in certain circumstances, it just seems the right and sensible thing to do in order to help protect yourself and others. Those denigrating the efficacy would most likely be the same ones who would drive their car off Beachy Head and then blame the ineffectiveness of their seat belt for not saving them from certain death.

And again, it's the same chant of losing our freedom which reverberates when in reality, every time we use social media we are surrendering ourselves to Silicon Valley, so carrying a QR code on our phones should be of little concern. But here's the ironic thing.

The very sector that should be welcoming vaccine passports is the most vociferous against them. Knowing your customer and what their preferences are has never been more critical than now as pubs and restaurants continue to meet the challenge which Covid has presented. After all, any means by which to better understand your customer base would surely be the smart thing to do? Instead, for now at least, it appears that the opportunity to achieve this is being eschewed in favour of an optimistic lament to return to 'normal'.

19 July might have been labelled Freedom Day by some but for many, sadly, it really will represent last orders unless a fresh mindset is brought to bear. Because, ultimately, just like Gareth Southgate, many are either unable or unwilling to change their game plan just when they need to the most. And the implications of that will be the tragedy of this pandemic.

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