Pubs and bars in England are ignoring COVID-19 guidance, potentially putting public health at risk, a Sky News investigation has found.
An undercover team visited a variety of hospitality venues in one Greater Manchester suburb, posing as walk-in customers.
Nine out of 10 venues visited were not following government guidance by asking for customer contact details.
In two venues, social distancing was being ignored.
The investigation has led to calls for local authorities to be given greater powers to shut or take action against venues not following the guidance.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham told Sky News he was “really disappointed” and warned that pubs would need to “get their houses in order”.
The venues visited are in a Greater Manchester borough where COVID-19 cases are rising.
New lockdown restrictions in this area mean that customers should only be visiting pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants with others in their household or support bubbles.
Although the local authorities say they do not expect businesses to police who customers are interacting with, they do expect staff to follow guidance on collecting customer contact tracing details.
Staff at one pub told Sky News’ team “no, it’s okay” when asked if contact details should be left ahead of leaving the premises.
When pressed, staff admitted they did not “know what to do for the best” when it came to gathering customer information.
At another bar, staff said they had “had it with the licensing and the police and everything”.
“They said put some squares [of paper] down and put them in a box and that,” the staff member said.
“And I said all I’m going to get is the same s***, where people are going to go and throw their names and numbers everywhere.”
At the same venue, where social distancing was not being adhered to in some parts of the pub, the same staff member said “it was hard” to keep people apart, but that this was not “the only pub around here” to struggle.
Although in England it is not mandatory for pubs and bars to collect details, the government says venues “should assist” the test and trace programmes “by keeping a temporary record of your customers and visitors for 21 days”.
In a statement, a Department of Health and Social care spokesperson said: “The NHS test and trace service is an integral part of the government’s coronavirus recovery strategy, designed to help us return to a more normal way of life and reduce the risk of needing local lockdowns in the future.
“This government is playing its part by supporting the hospitality sector through polices like Eat out to Help Out and so it is vital these businesses play their part too so we can all help stop the spread of the virus.”
The Scottish government will this weekend implement legislation that makes it mandatory by law for hospitality venues to ask customers for their details.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had hinted pubs might be among venues to close so that schools can reopen fully and safely in September.
Last week, Mr Burnham promised “targeted enforcement” of venues that were not sticking to COVID-19 guidance, including asking for contact tracing details.
Following Sky News’ investigation, the mayor said the situation is something “that we can’t just turn a blind eye to”.
He continued: “And I think it’s more than just a Greater Manchester problem – I think it’s the position all round the country.
“So what is the industry going to do? The industry has made a lot of calls on government and policy-makers in recent times. They have got to get their houses in order.”
But the British Beer and Pub Association, which represents thousands of pubs across the UK, said it believed the “overwhelming majority” of pubs in the UK were already complying.
Responding to the investigation, the group’s chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “The actions of a few pubs cannot be allowed to undo the hard work of so many others, so we must of course remain vigilant.”
Councillor Nesil Caliskan, the chair of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board, said she was “concerned” by the evidence found by Sky News’ investigation and appealed to the government to take action.
“Please give us the powers to go in and close or take action against those businesses who aren’t following the guidance because ultimately this is about trying to prevent a second wave,” she said.