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Tue 2nd Jun 2020 - Update: One-metre rule, BGF fund, Pret, nightclub safety in Spain
WHO – keeping one metre apart slashes coronavirus risk by 80%: Keeping just one metre apart reduces the risk of catching coronavirus by 80%, a major WHO study has revealed. The new research, funded by the World Health Organisation (WHO), will add to calls for Britain’s two-metre rule social distancing rule to be relaxed. Scientists found that people have just a 2.6% chance of catching coronavirus if they stand one metre away from an infected patient. This means the disease would spread to fewer than three out of 100 people, whereas 13 out of 100 would catch the virus if no distancing rule was in place. The study found that standing two metres apart was slightly more effective at preventing transmission, reducing the risk to around 1.3%, but that nothing can provide complete protection. They added that face masks have a strong protective effect, reducing the risk of catching the virus by up to 85 per cent. Business leaders have claimed the small increased risk from relaxing the two-metre restriction would be worth the economic benefits of allowing more businesses to reopen. Writing in The Daily Mail, former chancellor Norman Lamont said halving the rule to one metre was ‘the single most important measure we must take’ to avoid ‘devastating mass unemployment’. The WHO only recommends staying one metre apart. In France and Italy, the recommended social distance is just one metre, while Germany and Australia have implemented a 1.5 metre rule. Yesterday’s study, published in the Lancet, was conducted to inform WHO guidance and reviewed data from 172 existing studies on the spread of covid-19, SARS and MERS. In a Propel opinion article yesterday, sector investor Hugh Osmond wrote: “In the hospitality industry, we need to be brave – we need to call out the ridiculous and unjustified two-metre rule; we need to get customers back through the doors and show them they can have a great time and are not going to die of the Black Death. We need to lead from the front; stand up for what is right, not for what is proven to be nonsense. We need to shout from the rooftops: ‘This virus is not to be afraid of – come on out and have fun’. Be clear, by 15 March, it was obvious from the data that the growth in infections was not following the famous Imperial exponential curve. If government had been on the ball and examined the data more closely, it would have seen then the infection spike was in hospitals and the rate of growth was already significantly slowing by lock-down. Had the government not dispatched the virus into care homes, it would have been more or less over by the end of April. If everyone is allowed out with zero social distancing, there will be no second wave of deaths – so long as hospitals, care homes and the most vulnerable are protected. For technical reasons relating to variability of R and much lower susceptibility than assumed by Imperial, herd immunity is probably already there in London and can be achieved with almost no further deaths elsewhere.”

BGF plans fund to support businesses struggling to repay covid-19 loans: The Business Growth Fund (BGF), which backs sector companies such as Barburrito and Giggling Squid, is planning a £15bn fund to help bail out thousands of businesses that will struggle to repay state-guaranteed coronavirus loans. Stephen Welton, chief executive of BGF, which is backed by the big UK banks, told the FT he was talking to investors, the government and his shareholders about proposals for the public-private fund. He warned that the UK faced a more devastating economic crash than the last financial crisis, pointing to the threat of “a totally unsustainable debt mountain” following the state-backed bailout schemes. He said new equity would be urgently needed to buy out this debt when borrowers did not repay it, predicting “a lot of businesses will fail and a lot of people will be made redundant”. “Some sectors will never get back to where they were in 2019,” he told the FT. “Business will emerge indebted. There is a risk of turning an economic crisis into a banking crisis.” The fund would aim to help viable businesses that have tapped the government’s coronavirus business interruption loan scheme (CBILS), through which struggling small companies can borrow up to £5m. More than 43,000 businesses have borrowed in excess of £8bn through CBILS, which carries an 80% guarantee from the government. Welton said this could reach as high as £20bn before the end of the crisis. The proposal suggests private sector investment be matched by state money in a similar format to the Future Fund, which the government launched this month to support start-ups. Welton said many businesses would not be able to pay the wages of staff coming off the government furlough scheme, which would lead to insolvencies and redundancies in the second half of the year. Many such companies will also have used state-backed loans that they are unable to repay. They will either default, according to Welton, or turn into “zombie companies” unable to invest in operations as they seek to cover growing debts. Two-thirds of the small businesses backed by the BGF have used state-aid schemes to help survive the pandemic.

The Ivy Collection gets green light for Liverpool site: The Ivy Collection, the Richard Caring-backed and Baton Berisha-led group, has been given the green light for plans to open a site in Liverpool. The group has received permission to transform the ground floor part of the former Bank of Liverpool and Il Palazzo office building on Water Street into a new restaurant and bar. The redeveloped site will also house luxury duplex and triplex apartments on its upper floors. The Ivy Collection had also been in talks to acquire the Byron site in Newcastle before the covid-19 outbreak.

Pret launches biggest ever coffee promotion: Pret A Manger yesterday launched its biggest ever coffee promotion offering customers 20 organic coffees for just £20. The company said the promotion would mean customers can get their daily coffee for just £1. The card can be purchased throughout June at Pret shops, 300 of which are now open for takeaway and delivery. Pret’s range of organic coffee and teas, including Iced Americanos and Iced Lattes, are part of the offer. Selected shops will also include Cold Brew. For sale throughout June in Pret shops nationwide, the card is redeemable until 20 July 2020. Clare Clough, Pret UK managing director, said: “We’ve heard from many customers on social media about how much they’ve missed their regular Pret caffeine fix over the last few months. Launching our biggest and most generous coffee promotion felt like right way to welcome customers back to Pret, now that we’re reopened more shops across the UK for both takeaway and delivery.” Yesterday Pret reopened another 204 shops in the UK, bringing the total number of open shops it has reopened to over 300. Over the weekend, the company appointed advisors as it looks to undertake a “comprehensive transformation plan”, which could it see it push to change to a turnover-based rent model and lead to a limited number of permanent stores closures across its circa 430-strong UK estate.

Spanish nightclub industry draws up code to allow safe opening: Dancing with masks on, sipping drinks with straws and keeping to marked off areas of the dance floor are among post-lock-down safety proposals aimed at helping Spain’s nightclubs reopen their doors in time for the summer season. Clubs have been shut since the government imposed one of the most stringent coronavirus restrictions in Europe in March, which devastated the tourism sector that accounts for more than 12% of Spanish GDP. With the lock-down now easing, the National Federation of Leisure and Entertainment Businesses (FNEOE), an industry group, and the Institute for Quality Tourism, a lobby group, have drawn up safety guidelines as they wait for the green light for clubs to open. The plan recommends masks should be compulsory on the dance floor and clubbers would have to wash their hands as they enter and leave discos. Dance floors would be clearly marked off from other parts of clubs so customers did not mix and drinks would only be served with disposable straws. The nightlife sector, including “super clubs” on the island of Ibiza such as Pacha, Amnesia, and Eden that are popular with tourists, produces annual revenue of some 20 billion euros ($22 billion), according to the FNEOE. Getting it restarted will depend on the approval of the government, which has so far only allowed bars to open outdoor terraces, and with limited capacity. There is no word yet on when nightclubs will be allowed to open. “These guidelines were drawn up by doctors to try to ensure that people can enjoy an essential part of the Spanish life in a safe way,” said FNEOE spokesman Vicente Pizcueta, adding that he hoped things will return to normal in July.

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