A call to scrap perspex screens in restaurants and takeaways over fears they may increase Covid transmission has been branded “dangerous” by an industry figure.
The response follows a document obtained by political journalism website Politico that allegedly states screens are unlikely to have any benefit in terms of preventing transmission. Problems include them not being positioned correctly, with the possibility that they actually increase the risk of transmission by blocking airflow.
Barry Dickman, chief executive at Nottingham-based BD Signs & Digital, says: “It’s an absolute farce to advertise the scrapping of perspex screens while Covid is still spreading, it’s a dangerous direction to go in.
"Does a screen guard effectively block the spread of Covid? I can categorically say it does if the customer is standing in front of a member of staff and the screen guard hole itself is below chin level and covers an average of 50% of the counter area or 800mm width of serving area. The spread of Covid will travel a certain distance before it drops so if you’ve got a screen with a hole lower than someone's chin, it will have dropped before it’s got through.”
Manufacturing over 2,000 screen guards since Covid began, Barry believes the perspex barriers have helped hundreds of shops reopen by assisting the industry in gaining consumer confidence. However, he does stress the report’s issue about airflow and positioning is valid and says it was a key consideration when designing its screens.
He explains: “One of the massive concerns I had early on was that shops would block the whole counter with a screen guard. If you seal the whole counter and there’s natural airflow or an extraction unit working on the kebab machine, for example, air will be sucked from the shortest point - it doesn’t matter if you have a door open round the back - so if a customer speaks it will pull the air through the vent holes.
“Hence why we designed a screen with heights of 800-1000mm and with the serving hatch at a height of 300mm, generally below chin level, so there’s a massive airflow at the top which slows the speed of air. We simply don’t and won’t do screens that go fully left to right or counter to ceiling.
“If a customer wants to pass bigger bags through, we’ve always advised they needed to have a slot or gap between dividers to put large orders through.”
“We did a lot of testing before we developed our screens to make sure they were the right size to keep staff and customers safe.”
Strad Kyriacou, owner of Chris’s Fish and Chips in Barwell, Leicester, spent £3,000 on his 8m x 1.5m screen guards as well as £500 on a vortex check to ensure the airflow was adequate.
Insistent he will be keeping the screens for the foreseeable future, he says. “It’s personal preference, we don’t have to have them but I’m not changing, not now, especially in Leicester where the Delta variant is on the rise. Even national radio is telling us not to make any non-essential trips.
“We made sure we had gaps in all the right places to keep the shop ventilated effectively and we even paid for a consultation and vortex check to make sure the screens worked correctly.
“At the end of the day, it’s my choice. If I want the screens up, I’ll leave them up even if I’m being told I can scrap them. It’s the same with face masks, I’ll encourage that until I feel it’s right. I know it’s difficult with the heat right now, but we’re in a position where hygiene is important and the masks and screens give customers that extra reassurance, even if not necessary.”
Although government ministers have been given guidance to scrap the screens it is understood that there are no current plans to introduce any such proposals.
In a report by Huffington Post, Downing Street said the report obtained by Politico “doesn’t reflect the latest government thinking” while the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “The Health and Safety Executive will keep its guidance under review based on the latest evidence, and should that evidence necessitate a change, it would be changed.”