A challenge to prove cases of Covid-19 are being spread in hospitality venues has been issued to health secretary Matt Hancock as the industry faces threats of further curfews and even a second lockdown.
Peter Borg-Neal, chairman of Oakman Inns, which owns 28 pubs across Southern England and the Midlands, has led calls for evidence to be provided after the health secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We know that the vast majority of transmissions happen in social settings, whether that's in hospitality or in people's own homes."
The pub operator responded by highlighting figures from Public Health England showing that care homes continue to be the primary location of outbreaks followed by education and workplace settings.
Figures also show that last week less than 34 cases were reported across the entire pub and restaurant sector, despite record visits during the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce further restrictions in the coming days and it is understood that both operational restrictions and a second lockdown are under consideration.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, has repeatedly stressed that any further tightening of restrictions must be accompanied by financial support to protect jobs, with up to one million positions in the industry at risk.
Year-on-year, like-for-like sales for hospitality had reached 83% in the first week of September, but those operating in the north-east, who have already been hit with a 10pm curfew, warned of sales dips of 40%-50%.
Martin Wolstencroft, chief executive of bar group Arc Inspirations, said his all-day venue in Newcastle was 50% down on Friday as restrictions came into force; while Rob Pitcher, chief executive of Revolution bar group, said: "The 10pm curfew is a killer. No one out on the streets last night. Likely to be lots of socialising in houses so infections will continue to rise and therefore no relaxation of the measures for hospitality will be possible."
Friday saw the increased restrictions extended to areas in the north-west of England, West Yorkshire and the Midlands, set to come into force from Tuesday.