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Test and Trace Returns to Restaurants and Pubs — Maybe It Will Test and Trace This Time

Diners will once again have to “check in” on the NHS Covid-19 app, despite its data being roundly ignored

Smoking Goat’s menu and safety notice in the window of the restaurant — one of London’s best Thai restaurants’ safety precautions during the covid-19 pandemic
An NHS Covid-19 app QR code in the window of Smoking Goat, in Shoreditch
Michaël Protin/Eater London

The NHS Covid-19 test and trace app will return to restaurants and pubs when they reopen after coronavirus lockdown, with even more stringent measures in place. Every customer will be required to sign in by scanning a QR code at the venue, with the government again expecting restaurants and pub staff to enforce public health measures by denying entry to anyone who does not comply.

People who have already provided contact details — by booking a reservation online, for example — will not be required to sign in a second time, but all other parties in a given booking will have to “check in” using the NHS Covid-19 app. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) revealed the more intense measures in a call with hospitality stakeholders on Friday 26 March, according to Propel, saying that staff members must “review each customer’s phone screen” to confirm they have scanned the restaurant, pub, cafe, or bar’s code. The measures are expected to last until at least September.

Placing more onus on businesses to legally enforce measures that they cannot actually legally enforce will be another obstacle to smooth reopening, despite the “personal responsibility” narrative the government has pushed for the last twelve months — be it on 10 p.m. curfews, substantial meals, or the possible vaccine passports — now being a familiar drag. But it may feel even more grievous because of revelations in a report leaked earlier this month: that the £37 billion coronavirus Test and Trace infrastructure did not use hundreds of millions of check-ins from restaurants, pubs, bars, and restaurants in 2020 to track possible outbreaks.

The extremely low numbers of reports from these venues were initially taken to mean that they were extremely safe — but it is not the case that a lack of data meant low cases; a lack of data means a vacuum in the understanding of how the virus has been spreading. Public Health England’s use of Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) data to show minimal cases tied to hospitality venues — which stood in the stead of the app until it launched in September 2020, three months after restaurants reopened — has been repeatedly debunked as inaccurate, putting more pressure and Test and Trace to do its job and provide a clear picture of transmission networks while breaking them.

Trade body U.K. Hospitality said: “We are disappointed ... the government has chosen to make the system even more onerous on businesses at this time and simply unworkable to place the onus on our teams to refuse entry to customers who refuse to comply.” While that onus’ heaviness will be familiar, it remains another concern for workers as they prepare for reopning.

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