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Sat 24th Oct 2020 - New findings ‘proof positive’ sector not a significant factor in the spread of the virus
New findings ‘proof positive’ sector not a significant factor in the spread of the virus: A survey of 568 sector businesses, covering 12,500 venues and 250 million customer visits by UKHospitality, found they had been informed of only 104 cases by Test and Trace since the summer reopening. Hospitality chiefs told The Times the finding was “proof positive” the hospitality sector was not a significant factor in the spread of the virus, and curfews and closures should be reconsidered. According to The Times check-in data from tens of millions of people who visited pubs, cafes and restaurants has barely been used by the government’s official contact-tracing programme. Venues were required to record customer details to ensure they were “covid secure” as a condition of being allowed to reopen at the end of the national lock-down in July. Hundreds of millions of visits have been logged but almost none of that data has been requested or accessed by NHS Test and Trace. The technology companies that designed tracing systems for bars and restaurants said the failure to use the data was a missed opportunity and the information could have been used to suppress local outbreaks. JD Wetherspoon has logged 16.7 million customers’ details in its 850 pubs but has had only 35 requests for tracing information from local or national health officials. A spokesman said Wetherspoon had had one case of probable transmission between four staff at a pub. The health authorities issued a press release asking customers to watch out for symptoms if they had been to the pub, but did not “activate” test and trace by contacting customers. The companies that built tracing systems allowing venues to reopen expressed surprise they had received little or no contact from the official network even as infections developed into a second wave. Airship, a data-processing business whose 340 clients include Leon and Pret A Manger, registered more than eight million visits to 10,000 venues but knew of only two that had been contacted by health officials. Airship chief executive Dan Brookman said: “It seems there was never a system in place to use any of this data to try to stop the spread of the virus — it is a missed opportunity. It seems to have been a box-ticking exercise, another piece of noise to give the impression that action was being taken, but actually no action followed.” Wireless Social designed track-and-trace systems for its clients and recorded more than three million customers’ details. It said it had received no requests for data. Julian Ross, chief executive of Wireless Social, whose clients include Fullers and YO!, said the track-and-trace system had been “window dressing”, adding: “I don’t believe it had an infrastructure in the background that was ready to process this data.” UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said Public Health England data for the past week showed venues had been linked to only 2.7% of new outbreaks. She added: “The limited amount of contact from health officials is proof we are not the problem.” The Department of Health and Social Care said: “Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors is vital to help NHS Test and Trace identify and contain clusters or outbreaks of covid-19 linked to particular venues.”

Wahaca secures CVA approval: Mexican restaurant company Wahaca has had its company voluntary arrangement (CVA) approved, which will see the company close 11 of its circa 25 sites. It was reported last month, the CVA would also lead to lenders to and shareholders of the company writing off £25m of debt and injecting £5m of new money into the business to put it on a more sustainable footing. Lenders led by the taxpayer-backed NatWest will also see roughly 60% of their exposure, or £13m, written off, while shareholders are writing off the entirety of the £12m they are owed by the company. Wahaca co-founder Mark Selby told Propel: “The CVA being passed allows us to focus positively on the future by continuing with our reopening programme, as well as an ongoing dedication to our core offering of sustainable, high quality, fresh food and a fantastic customer experience.” The company announced in August it would not be reopening a third of its estate, including sites in Bluewater, Bristol, Brixton, Charlotte Street, Chichester, Manchester, Liverpool, Kentish Town, Southampton and St Paul’s. The business had been working with PwC since April on its funding options. The company has reopened 13 of its sites under its eponymous brand and its two DF Tacos sites as part of a gradual reopening process. 

Caffe Nero considers CVA: Caffe Nero is mulling a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) to launch talks with landlords as it struggles through the health crisis. According to Sky News, the Gerry Ford-owned business has yet to make a final decision about a CVA, although sources say one is expected in the coming weeks as it aims to reduce its rent bill. The group, which is one of the biggest coffee shop operators in the UK, employs about 5,000 staff. Further details about the consequences of a CVA, including numbers of job losses or shop closures, were unclear on Friday (23 October). Last month, Caffe Nero appointed advisers to aid in its negotiations with landlords. The company is working with KPMG on said talks in regards to its circa 660-strong UK estate. More than 90% of the chain’s outlets have reopened since the coronavirus lock-down ended in June.

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