The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated the World in 2020, causing the closure of shops, restaurants and bars, the grounding of aircraft and general chaos to any event such as concerts and sports events. With the announcement that some countries will start vaccination programs before the end of 2020 with an expansion into 2021 several companies are starting to talk about their clients proving they have had the vaccine before being able to partake in certain activities.
Notably Qantas Airlines have stated publicly that they will demand evidence of a vaccine before you are able to take an international flight with them and I have received an email from ticket seller Ticketmaster about proving either a negative Covid test or having the vaccine before being allowed into concert venues or sporting events. But there are rumours that you may need to have a Covid “passport” before being allowed into the pub or restaurant.
There is no doubting the way that technology, and its rapid development, have helped us come through this pandemic. Most countries have implemented some form of “Track and Trace” to alert you if you have been in proximity with someone who has later tested positive for Coronavirus.
Restaurants have been able to digitize their menus, eliminating the need for customers to handle a physical copy, by using QR codes which can then be accessed via a smartphone. We have become used to seeing customers using their smartphones in pubs and restaurants over the last few years but now they have a definite use and we have become even more dependent on them.
A large number of countries, England, France and America included, have already stated that it will not be obligatory to have a Coronavirus vaccine. But let’s be honest they don’t need to make it compulsory if we are restricted from taking part in some of our favourite activities. Going out for dinner? Make sure your medical information is up to date on your smartphone – fact or fiction?
As ever the English government is currently giving out contradictory information. The minister for Covid Vaccination, Nadhim Zahawi, has stated that his team are looking at the possibility of hospitality outlets demanding an “immunity passport” and that businesses could refuse entry to those people without one. The head of the track and trace system for the NHS has also shown her support for the passport scheme.
On the other hand Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove, has said that there are no plans within the government to introduce Covid passports to allow people into pubs and restaurants. It is important to remember that restaurateurs and licensees have the right to refuse service to anyone as long as they don’t discriminate on the grounds of race, gender or religion.
There is no denying that we want to return to a life that is as normal as possible. We want our restaurants and bars to be open and we want them to be safe environments. I understand that the airline industry will welcome any documentation that proves an individual is unlikely to infect the rest of the passengers on a flight, but where does that end.
Will we carry our entire medical history on our ‘phone and then what about criminal history? There have been many concerns this year over the loss of personal liberties and some fear that we will never again have the freedoms that we knew prior to 2020.
The wider implication of introducing “passports” to enable people to access their favourite eatery is who becomes responsible for checking the passport information. It is without doubt that the responsibility will fall to the restaurant / bar management and staff. It is highly likely that the technology will develop whereby customers can “sign-in” automatically as they enter the establishment.
Another cost for the hospitality industry! Many of my restaurant customers are of senior age and do not necessarily use technology comfortably and I certainly hope that they will not be excluded from restaurants. It is also worth mentioning that the vaccine is to be rolled out in stages and will be given to certain groups of people before others.
The technology now allows us to discriminate and to be dictated to. In the past when tuberculosis and polio were running rampant we did not have the luxury of knowing whether the person next to us was infectious or had received one of the new vaccines. My worry is that we could be on the verge of excluding a large proportion of the population and creating a massive divide.
One thing for sure is that the hospitality industry will never quite be the same as it was. As professionals we are going to need to adapt to our customers’ changing requirements. There will be those who will feel safer in an environment where everyone is vaccinated and there will be those who will not go near a vaccination. We live in interesting times!