In early March, on the cusp of the pandemic, the International comedy club in Dublin, announced the show must go on, and that they will be staying open all weekend. Nobody showed up to fill the tiny little club, that world was suddenly over.
In the western world, the party abruptly stopped. The eye-level centers of commerce that are the beating heart of our cities, closed with stunning rapidity. While most businesses have been effected by the pandemic, the one with the largest question mark over its future is food, beverage and entertainment. While white-collar jobs move online, and grocery retail and its supply chain thrive, opportunities open, and others adapt, it is increasingly hard to see how our many bars and restaurants can survive in a world without a vaccine. A vaccine, most experts believe is at least 18months away.
The slow-moving car crash tactics announced by the Irish government put the entertainment industry to the back of the line, with a proposed August re-opening schedule. It is, however, becoming increasingly obvious that without herd immunity, or medical miracle, the opening of the main facilitators of social mixing would send us right back to square one. As it stands the only place people really mix outside their circle is shops, and then they are being well instructed in a controlled environment. The packed parks are a place where transmission of the virus is again unlikely. If the idea is to drip feed the population the virus, wait for medication, and re-start the economy then the Irish plan might just work, until stage 4.
Put simply the architecture, nature, and traditions of bars, restaurants, and entertainment are simply incompatible with life in 2020. Most Bars and Restaurants have 3 days at the weekend to do the majority of their business, they need packed bars to make money. Combine this with a collapse in tourism and I suspect many will simply not re-open even if allowed too. When one thinks of the crowded thronged bars of Dublin, with the damp warm air and people drinking and shouting over the music, two words spring to mind HEALTH HAZZARD. How many people could be infected by even 5 spreaders on a night out? It is not hard to imagine a scenario where bars re-open , numbers spike, and people either stay away, or bars and restaurants are forced to shut.
There is the option of retro-fitting the bars with panels of perspex and hand wash, but what is does that look like to a crowd of drunk patrons, and who the hell wants to drink there? In post-COVID Ireland, going on a night out is simply the riskiest thing anyone could do. For those young adults living at home, and there are many, there would be a massive risk of coming home infected and giving the a parent the virus. Football matches and gigs carry the same risk. This is not a hard calculation for anyone to wrap their heads around. The Irish government, content with not overwhelming the hospitals, seems focused on kicking the can a few months down the road, but if and when, our population, most of who are uninfected, are rewarded with a return to social norms, then we will see the opening of rich playgrounds in which the virus to feast. It is inconceivable that cases will not skyrocket, and it begs the question of what exactly are we waiting for?