Managing COVID-19 Transmission Risks in Bars: An Interview and Observation Study
Licensed premises face particular challenges to operating safely within COVID-19 restrictions. Following a U.K. national lockdown from March 20, 2020, the present research studied business practices and behaviors in licensed premises to inform COVID-19 policies. To the knowledge of the researchers, no previous study worldwide has examined these issues.
Before premises reopened in Scotland, the researchers conducted in-depth telephone interviews (May–June 2020) with participants from hospitality trade associations, licensed premises, or in related roles (n = 18). Interviews focused on anticipated business practices and challenges relevant to minimizing COVID-19 transmission. Following reopening (July–August 2020), the researchers conducted observations of relevant practices and behaviors in 29 bars purposively sampled for diversity, using a structured schedule. Interviews and observation reports were analyzed thematically.
Interviewees generally sought clarity, flexibility, and balance in government guidance on reopening, and they cited commercial and practical challenges to doing so safely. Alcohol consumption was perceived as an additional but potentially manageable challenge. Most observed premises had made physical and operational modifications; however, practices were variable. Observed incidents of concern included close physical interaction between customers and with staff, frequently featuring alcohol intoxication and rarely effectively stopped by staff.
Despite the efforts of bar operators and guidance from government, potentially significant risks of COVID-19 transmission persisted in a substantial minority of observed bars, especially when customers were intoxicated.