The proposed date for the reopening of the hospitality sector and other venues in England – 4 July – also happens to be my birthday.
The words that pour from Boris Johnson’s mouth this afternoon will be the difference between a day spent sipping sweet, cold gin and tonics at some pub down on the Cornish coast, and another ‘special’ dinner at home – which is basically normal dinner, with added fuss and board games and pressure.
I hadn’t realised how important being able to go out to eat or drink or sip on a coffee is to my sense of self, and I think a lot of people have been similarly surprised at how integral the sector is to feeling ‘normal’. So I am sweating in anticipation, salivating at the thought of being able to get out and play ordinary, at least for a small, precious time.
Then I steel myself for a touch of perspective and contend that my selfish yearning is totally indulgent in comparison to the anxiety business owners must feel in this moment. Those business owners for whom today’s decision is the difference between survival or failure, redundancies or no redundancies.
It’s a big deal.
The prime minister spent last night with his medical and scientific advisors, agonising over the two-metre rule on social distancing. If he adopts a ‘one metre plus’ physical distancing rule from 4 July for all venues, including shops, restaurants, schools, museums, theatres, cinemas, offices and parks, as reported in The Telegraph on Saturday, then swathes of the economy will be able to open, and profitably.
UK Hospitality, the trade body, had warned that the industry’s usual revenues would be slashed by more than two thirds if restaurants and pubs had to abide by the current two-metre rule, and many would find it impossible to open altogether.
Of course, the risk of transmitting infection also becomes greater the closer we all get, and many are understandably nervous. To counteract this threat, people will be expected to take additional measures to protect themselves, such as wearing face coverings or only meeting outdoors. Oh, to be able to exercise one’s own judgement again!
Still, who knows what will happen when the prime minister takes the floor; our leaders have certainly surprised us before. But if what is being reported comes true at 12.30, I will be glad.
For those businesses that are thrown a crucial lifeline; for our endangered economy; for a discernible shift in tone – toward trusting and convivial, and away from suspicious and watchful – and for all those people feeling claustrophobic and anxious: finally, for where I live, there will be somewhere else to go to feel human.