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Reopening: independent pubs reject ‘virus buck’

Bosses at Islington boozers say they won’t put their customers in danger – despite government’s call to welcome them back

26 June, 2020 — By Calum Fraser

Arsenal fans on a matchday at the Tollington Arms in Holloway

INDEPENDENT pubs in Islington are set to reject the government’s call to reopen, with one publican saying it is a “recipe for disaster”.

Martin Whelan, who runs The Tollington Arms and Big Red pubs in Holloway, as well as the Lincoln Lounge in King’s Cross, said he won’t open any of them on July 4 – dubbed “our independence day” by the government – when pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers will be given the green light to start trading again.

Mr Whelan said: “The scientific evidence has now been thrown out the window and the government is listening to big business. This has the recipe for disaster, and when the virus comes back then we will all cry in our soup.”

Gyms and swimming pools are not on the list of businesses allowed to open next Saturday but Prime Minister Boris Johnson also announced in Parliament on Tuesday that he is dropping the two-metre social distancing rule. People will be asked to maintain the space where possible.

Premier League football kicked off last week and Arsenal are set to have their first home game behind closed doors at the Emirates Stadium next Wednesday.

The Tollington, in Hornsey Road, is one of many pubs in the area that rely on trade from the thousands of fans who flock to the Emirates to see the Gunners.

The Tollington Arms relies heavily on matchday trade from the nearby Emirates Stadium

Mr Whelan said: “Why would we open when we are going to make a huge loss as well? We are a proper sports bar and we solely rely on Arsenal Football Club, the Sobell Centre and Arsenal’s sports hub.

“On a normal matchday we would have about 2,500 people come through the door in a six-hour period, generating about 40 per cent of our annual turnover. That has now been wiped out.”

Mr Whelan said it was likely that pubs owned by one of the big chains would open next Saturday because of the different margins involved.

Wetherspoons said it has been ready to open its venues since the end of May, while many pubs, including the Old Ivy House in Clerkenwell, have been operating as an off-licence serving tap-beer in sealed jars.

Strict rules have been set out for pubs that want to reopen next week. They must take punters’ personal details before they order drinks to help the Government’s track and trace strategy. If someone tests positive for the coronavirus then those who were sat close to them can be contacted by the NHS.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

PM Boris Johnson has urged pubs to reopen on July 4

Una McKernan, who co-runs The Gunners pub in Blackstock Road, said: “I am of the mentality of humanity over the economy. We are undecided if we will open, probably not. I would rather loyal patrons and friends were virus-free than potentially earn a quick Covid buck.

And why should we do the Government’s tacking for them? They failed in coming up with a system so now they want pubs to do it for them?

“Pubs are public spaces, just like parks. If you are to legislate and track people’s movements in bars you should have done it in parks when people were buying cheap drinks from supermarkets and trashing the place. There has certainly been little to no social distancing going on in parks in lockdown.”

Speaking on Tuesday night, Mr Johnson said: “The British public have proved again and again that they can be trusted to do the right thing and do it with common sense.

“There is no doubt we are beating back this virus. With your continued co-operation and good judgement, we will beat it for once and for all. Frankly I can’t wait to go to a pub or a restaurant, even if it’s not compatible with the diet that I’m on. I think people need to go out, I think people need to enjoy themselves and rediscover things that they have been able to do for a long time. I want to see bustle.”

And speaking of July 4, he said: “I hope it will be a great day but people have got to make sure people don’t overdo it. We can’t have great raving scenes in the beer garden when the virus could be passed on.”

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