Hundreds of people queued up for a coronavirus test in a Staffordshire market town today as it fought an outbreak linked to a local pub where at least ten people were infected after 200 drinkers were filmed crammed into a beer garden ‘like sardines’ in clear contravention of social distancing guidelines.
Punters and staff who were at the 17th century Crown and Anchor in Stone between July 16 and 18 are now being told to urgently get swabs done, as well as anyone who has been in close contact with visitors to the pub.
A new testing centre has been set up 350 yards away at a car park, and people who were out in Stone on one of those nights who have since displayed symptoms despite not going to the pub should also now get a test.
One customer at the pub who tested positive is also said to have held a private gathering, causing a further spread. There were 43 new cases in Staffordshire in the week to Sunday – level to the previous week.
It comes after local resident Ayrron Robinson filmed a video of people packed into the beer garden earlier this month, saying: ‘If we do have to go into local lockdown then the pub has a lot to answer for.’
The pub – which is not part of a chain and is now shut – is owned by Teresa Pinto, 47, who is British, and her husband Custodio Pinto, 51, who is Portuguese, who took over in 2013. The pub said in a statement that it would ‘review our risk assessment’ before reopening in the town, which has a population of more than 16,000.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson now fears a second wave of coronavirus could start in Britain within a fortnight, while sweeping new local lockdown restrictions have been introduced in Oldham after a huge spike in the town’s cases.
Although the number of UK national cases is relatively low, rises were recorded each day last week for the first time since the April peak. The seven-day average stands at almost 700 – 28 per cent up on three weeks ago.
Mr Robinson, 31, who has lived opposite the pub in Stone for four years, filmed the clip from his window after becoming concerned about an apparent lack of social distancing.
He said: ‘It’s sensible that the council is acting and taking it seriously but it’s a shame that it’s gone this far. I was very concerned by the amount of people who were there – at least 200.
‘With a bit of luck the virus won’t have spread too far and turn into a big outbreak. If we do have to go into local lockdown then the pub has a lot to answer for. It’s been the talk of the town for some time now and even the local Covid Facebook group was telling people to get tested.’
The mobile walk-in centre will be open from 10am to 5pm today and Friday and no appointment is needed.
Laurie Chamberlain wrote on the pub’s Facebook page last Friday: ‘My friend’s son was in there Saturday (July 18) night amongst all that chaos. Covid symptomatic Sunday and Monday, tested Tuesday and positively confirmed on Wednesday.
‘By rights everyone in there on Saturday should be contacted and now isolating. Is there a track and trace system in place and are people aware?’
The incident has caused fury locally, with Max Araya Bowman writing: ‘Gross misconduct in the trade, we are working tirelessly to make sure every venue is safe for guest and staff alike and you have ignored all of it.
‘Hope the police fine you to bankruptcy because profiteering in the manner you did is dangerous and truly disgraceful. You should be ashamed of yourself.’
Leigh Robinson added: ‘Hope you’re ashamed of yourselves, you’ve now potentially putting people and their families and others in danger with your greedy actions. Need shutting down and hitting where it hurts.’
And Mike Macklin said: ‘Because of your failure to follow Government guidelines, you will be blamed for any Covid deaths in Stone for several weeks, and rightly so.
‘I hope the licensing people are taking a very close look at whether you are suitable people to hold a license when you neglect your legal responsibilities and put the whole town at risk.’
But Clare Faulkner said: ‘I assume everyone had the choice about whether or not to go in when they could see it was already busy? It’s not just the landlord’s fault, everyone is responsible for their own decisions.’
Tests at the new centre are free and no appointment is necessary but people are being asked to try to space out their visits. One resident, who did not want to be named, described queues of people there, adding: ‘Hundreds of people have already been down there, and it only opened this morning.’
Dr Richard Harling, Staffordshire County Council’s director for public health said: ‘As part of our outbreak control duties, we are dealing with an outbreak at the Crown and Anchor pub in Stone.
‘It is important that anyone drinking or working in the pub on that weekend gets tested as soon as possible, which is why we’ve organised for a mobile testing unit to be in the town all day tomorrow and Friday.
‘We also want people who have been in close contact with anyone drinking in the pub on that weekend to get themselves tested, as well as people who were out and about in the town and are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms – namely a high temperature, new persistent cough or loss of taste and smell. It is also crucial that people self-isolate if they are told to do so.
‘By getting tested, this gives us important information on the full extent of any outbreak, and allows us to put measures in place if needed to help prevent the spread of infection. We’re doing everything we can to prevent outbreaks and stop the virus from spreading.
‘Residents can help by continuing to follow the rules to stop the spread of Covid-19 – washing hands regularly, keeping your distance, and wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport.’
Dr Harling told the BBC that ‘not very much was known’ about the party at the heart of the second transmission event. He said: ‘It does appear that one of the people who caught the infection at the Crown and Anchor was then at a private event where there was further transmission of the infection. This appears to largely be a young adult demographic, young adults in the 18-21 age bracket.’
The pub’s licence is administered by Stafford Borough Council. In a statement, the council said: ‘There is a possibility their licence could be reviewed in due course.’
The Crown and Anchor has now closed after saying it had been ‘overwhelmed’ the previous weekend. It has been told to carry out a risk assessment before reopening.
No one at the pub was available for comment, but a spokesman said on July 24: ‘Due to the overwhelming amount of people visiting the Crown and Anchor on Saturday, we have decided to close this weekend to be able to review our risk assessment in order to deal with the difficulty that we faced with social distancing.
‘By saying that we are grateful and appreciative of all our customers and want to make it a safe environment for you when we reopen next weekend. We will be posting our updated guidelines.’
Pub owner Mrs Pinto was quoted in the local press last December talking about Brexit, saying: ‘We employ quite a few people from Europe, because they seem to be more reliable workers.’
The pub previously shut in August 2014 when Mr Pinto found out it did not have a licence following a voluntary liquidation process. The business was registered at Companies House as a private limited firm in July 2019.
The Crown and Anchor, which has a thatched roof, was built in 1675 and then rebuilt in 1937 after the upper part of the building was destroyed in a fire, in time to celebrate George VI’s coronation.
Stone is located on the River Trent with a population of more than 16,000. It made its name in the manufacturing of boots and shoes and also grew thanks to its location on a major road route between London and Chester.
It is now a relatively affluent market town with two-thirds of residents in employment and an ageing population. The three main local employers are motor vehicles, health and social work and manufacturing.
Mother-of-four Gemma Harper, 39, set up a local coronavirus support group on Facebook when the crisis began. When the outbreak occurred, her page became the hub for providing information to members of the community.
The charity worker said: ‘On the night of the video there were 200-odd people in there. The video went viral and people started messaging me saying you couldn’t get to the bar, it was five deep, there was no social distancing. The landlord didn’t take anybody’s details, so he had no tracing system.
‘It wasn’t just the Saturday night. It was the Friday night and the previous weekend, a total of three nights when the pub was absolutely jam packed.
‘It was just a free-for-all in the pub. So many people have now come in for tests because the young people who were at the pub have been mingling in the community ever since, which will likely make the infection rate quite high.
‘It’s a pub but turns into a late nightclub later. It’s the only place that is open late in the area so it attracts people from all over, and it was completely rammed.
‘They said they were going to have hand sanitisers and screens but if you see the video, there was no regard for any social distancing.
‘The crowds were how it used to be every week before the pandemic. They opened the pub and acted as if there was no such thing as Covid. The other pubs have taken decent social distancing measures and put all the procedures in.
‘Give it a week and we are going to have a pretty big outbreak here. The people who have tested positive are all from one friendship group, but now people from other friendship groups are getting ill as well.
‘Parents of young people who were there started messaging the Facebook group saying their kids had tested positive for Covid. We had 13 parents contact us, so we knew there was an outbreak. But no one would put anything official out there.
‘In the end, I contacted the Director of Health and Care for Staffordshire County Council, Dr Richard Harling. He said there was a two-day delay so they had been unable to recognise the cluster of cases so far. He asked me to send him all the names we had, and that is what we did.
‘I suggested that we have an official announcement because a lot of people thought it was a hoax. So last night, they put it on the local news.
‘The issue is, some of these tests were done on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week. They had the Crown and Anchor in common but nothing was traced back to the pub. The track and trace people didn’t ask them where they had been the previous weekend.
‘The system isn’t working at all. It took me and my friend Louise, two busy mums, to put the pieces together. I’m really disappointed.
‘One parent contacted the pub last Wednesday to say their child had tested positive but the pub didn’t tell anyone and remained open. As of yesterday there were about 20 to 30 cases. The figures speak for themselves.
‘Some people won’t test positive until day three of the infection so they may have had false negatives. The clientele was a group of 18-20-year-olds and that was the original group. A few of them got sore throats but no cough or symptoms, so they didn’t think anything of it and went about their business.
‘Some were very poorly but most only had a tickly throat. We don’t know if there have been any hospitalisations and we don’t know if it has passed to any older people. But people are now afraid to go into town. We are bracing for the worst.
‘We have tried so hard as a community but the pub has ruined it all now. We’re worried we are all going back into a lockdown. People are really angry. People were looking forward to going out and about in August, particularly the older people. Now it is all in doubt.
‘Our High Street is full of independent shops and it struggles as it is. We have been hit so hard already and everyone feels that the Crown and Anchor has ruined it all for us.’
It comes as Boris Johnson fears a second wave of coronavirus could start within a fortnight. The Prime Minister is said to be ‘extremely concerned’ by outbreaks ‘bubbling up’, both at home and abroad.
Ministers have been warning of a potential second wave of the pandemic this winter but now fear it could come sooner. On a visit to Nottingham yesterday, Mr Johnson said Britons must not drop their guard.
Mr Johnson is said to have been spooked by the resurgence of the virus in parts of the United States and Europe following the easing of lockdown.
Cases in Spain doubled last week while the Belgian government warned of a second ‘complete lockdown’ unless outbreaks come under control.
The head of Germany’s public health agency yesterday said he was ‘very concerned’ by rising infection levels.
A Downing Street source said: ‘The PM is extremely concerned by what he’s seeing abroad and fears we could be seeing the same thing here in a fortnight.
‘People have got to realise we are still in the middle of a pandemic. He wants to go further on opening things up and getting people back to work, but he knows it’ll be his head on the block if things go wrong.’
Meanwhile a report from MPs has condemned the Government’s ‘reckless and appalling error’ in allowing 25,000 pensioners to be discharged to care homes without testing.
In Oldham, the town’s 235,000 residents were told not to invite any ‘social visitors’ to their homes with immediate effect. They were also told to keep two metres apart from friends and family when they were seeing them outside.
In addition, care homes in the Greater Manchester town will not relax restrictions on visitors, and people who are ‘shielding’ are advised to continue for another two weeks from Friday.
The new moves – imposed days before the town’s large Muslim population celebrates Eid – come after the rate of positive tests shot up five-fold to 50 per 100,000 people, compared to just 10 per 100,000 a week ago.
Oldham has seen 119 cases in the seven days to July 25, compared to just 26 in the week before. The sudden rise prompted similar action to that taken 20 miles away in Blackburn with Darwen two weeks ago.
As with the Lancashire towns, transmissions within traditional multi-generational Asian households is a key factor rather than individual outbreaks, public health chiefs said yesterday.
Katrina Stephens, director of public health for Oldham, said the gradual lifting of lockdown measures ‘inevitably’ played a part in the ‘sudden spike’ the borough had seen.
‘As people start to interact more, we will inevitably see more cases,’ she added. Another factor is Oldham residents visiting friends and families in Lancashire hotspots such as Blackburn and Pendle, she added.