But he warns that the decision is “make or break” – with a two-metre rule in place, he can still “only have two members of staff in the kitchen – rather than our usual team of eight.”
For chef-restaurateur David Moore of long-standing Michelin-starred institution Pied à Terre in Fitzrovia, which first opened in 1991, other questions – for example around track-and-trace and what to do should a staff or customer test positive for Covid-19 – also need answering in order for him to make solid, workable plans for reopening and remaining open for good.
“If we got a call to say Joe Bloggs who dined at the restaurant the night before has coronavirus, would the whole restaurant then need to close its doors for two weeks, at great cost, or would only the staff on duty that night need to quarantine?” he asks.
“Will staff be offered testing to give us a fighting chance of carrying on? I haven’t had any revenue for five months, and I haven’t received a grant due to the rateable value of the property we operate in – so I worry that the furlough scheme could be a very expensive waiting room for the unemployed if we don’t receive better guidance.
“With a two-metre rule, we don’t stand a chance. It’s a non-starter,” he adds. “I could seat 30 people across 10 tables on the main restaurant floor, which usually has 44 covers, but as customers go to and from the bathrooms or staff come through with their food, there are too many pinch points to maintain it. I haven’t made any plans to open in July, because I can’t see how I can operate.”
“We could have a go at it with one metre. I would advocate a focus on mindful distancing, not social distancing – being mindful at all times. I’ve lost friends, as we all have, and I don’t want anyone to get this virus, but this industry cannot survive with social distancing, because our business is social.”
What’s the health risk of one-metre versus two?
Although the government’s scientific advisers say that being one metre apart carries up to 10 times the risk of being two metres apart, they face increasing pressure to allow people to be closer together in a bid to help businesses get back on their feet. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization recommends keeping a distance of just one metre. Countries including China, Denmark and France have adopted a one-metre rule, while other countries, such as Australia, Belgium and Germany have adopted a 1.5m rule – in the US, it’s 1.8m.
Dr Michael Tildesley, an infectious disease scientist at the University of Warwick, has said studies are “unclear”, but that there was “an increase in risk with going down to one metre” purely based on public health – though he notes that “the government has to consider economic factors.” Some experts have even warned that economic shutdown could eventually kill more than the virus.
We asked Bill Keevil, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Southampton who has studied the behaviours of coronavirus, for his take on the risk of a one-metre rule to public health versus the impact of a two-metre rule. “Particularly indoors, the two-metre rule is very important because of how far respiratory droplets can travel before falling down,” he told Telegraph Food. “I can see how a case can be made for reducing two-metre to one-metre by everyone wearing an appropriate mask, but wearing a mask in pubs and restaurants is difficult because people are there to eat and drink, requiring frequent lowering of the mask which invalidates its safe use.”
According to vaccinologist and viral diseases expert Dr Gregory Poland, it’s important to understand that there is no “magic number” for absolute protection from infection. “Nonetheless one metre is riskier than two metres, which is riskier than three metres. Many factors including temperature, humidity, vapour pressure, UV light, and air currents determine how far the virus can travel and still be infectious,” he told The Telegraph. “Distance is just one, albeit an important factor, of many factors to keep yourself safe. That is why other mitigating factors (mask wearing, hand-washing) are important strategies in combination with social distancing.”
No specific requirements on distance between tables has been stipulated in the latest draft of the goverment guidance, which instead makes reference to “wider spacing”, using screens and barriers where appropriate. Previously, guidance for restaurants said: “provide where possible for two-metre social distancing”. British hospitality businesses meanwhile are modelling multiple business plans in advance of July 4, and frustratedly await the conclusions of the review.
With only a few weeks left, navigating an attempt to return to business while keeping customers safe is a priority. Supplies need to be ordered; bookings confirmed or cancelled, and plans for distancing measures required put in place – whether that will involve reducing covers (and making contingency plans for the resulting loss of profit) or the number of staff members able to work in kitchens at the same time.