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Prime minister says Eat Out to Help Out may have helped spread coronavirus despite lack of evidence

05 October 2020 by
Prime minister says Eat Out to Help Out may have helped spread coronavirus despite lack of evidence

Prime minister Boris Johnson has said August's Eat Out to Help Out scheme may have helped spread coronavirus, but when challenged on the scientific evidence behind the 10pm curfew on hospitality, he was unable to provide any.

Speaking on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, Johnson said it was "very important to keep those [hospitality] jobs going", but he added that "we need to counteract that with the discipline and the measures that we're proposing".

When challenged on the scientific evidence backing the introduction of a curfew last month, he said: "The scientific evidence is, of course, that the virus is transmitted by person-to-person contact. Yes it's transmitted in homes, but it's also transmitted in what they call the hospitality sector. It's transmitted in pubs and bars and restaurants, particularly as people get more convivial as the evening goes on."

He added: "By curtailing the hours you can reduce the transmission."

Despite this, just 4.2% of 782 new acute respiratory infection incidents reported between 21 September and 27 September were linked to food outlets or restaurants.

On the same day, in an interview with The Sun, chancellor Rishi Sunak defended the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, denying that it contributed to the second wave. In a prior Downing Street briefing, Sunak said it is "too simplistic" to claim the scheme contributed to the spread of the virus.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls pointed out on Twitter that if Eat Out to Help Out had contributed, a spike would have been seen in August, adding: "There is no clear evidence of this."

When questioned on the safety of pub and restaurant guests being ejected from premises at the same time, Johnson also said: "It makes no sense if, having followed the guidance for all the time in the pub, they then pour out into the street and hobnob in such a way as to spread the virus."

Although the blanket closure saw unregulated crowds drinking and dancing in the streets last week, images have also emerged over the weekend of crowds queueing in the rain for transport.

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