Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested that the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme could have contributed to the recent rise in coronavirus infection rates across the UK.
The scheme encouraged members of the public to visit pubs, cafes and restaurants to take advantage of a 50 per cent discount on meals, up to the price of £10 per person, throughout August.
‘Counteract’ the spread
Mr Johnson has now stressed the importance of counteracting any influence the scheme may have had on the spread of the virus, with the introduction of strict new measures.
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The UK government recently imposed a 10pm curfew on all pubs, bars and restaurants as part of efforts to curb the spread, while household mixing indoors has been banned in parts of England under local lockdown.
In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there is currently an outright ban on indoor household mixing, unless those involved are part of an extended household.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Mr Johnson said, “I think it was right to reopen the economy. I think if we hadn’t done that, if we hadn’t got things moving again in the summer, I mean we would be looking at many more hundreds of thousands of jobs lost.
“I also think that it is important now, irrespective of whether Eat Out to Help Out you know, where the balance of there was, it unquestionably helped to protect many… there are two million jobs at least in the hospitality sector. It was very important to keep those jobs going.
“Now, if it, insofar as that scheme may have helped to spread the virus, then obviously we need to counteract that and we need to counteract that with the discipline and the measures that we’re proposing.
“I hope you understand the balance we’re trying to strike.”
The Prime Minister had earlier deflected the question as to whether the scheme had contributed to the spread of the disease.
Will the 10pm curfew help restore control?
While Mr Johnson defended the controversial decision to impose a 10pm curfew - and blamed those who choose to “hobnob” outside pubs after hours for the often chaotic scenes in city centres - scientific advisers have warned that the measure may actually be causing more harm than good.
This is because of the resulting long queues that can form outside off-licences after pubs close their doors, coupled with busy public transport with little or no social distancing in place as people leave en masse to go home.
When asked to provide scientific evidence to support the 10pm curfew, Mr Johnson said, “Well, the scientific evidence is of course that the virus is transmitted by person-to-person contact.
“Yes, it’s transmitted in homes, it’s transmitted between people, but it’s also transmitted in what they call hospitality sectors, it’s transmitted in pubs and bars and restaurants, particularly as people get more convivial as the evening goes on.
“One of the things that has been put to us is that by curtailing the hours you can reduce the transmission.
“Obviously 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.
“The answer is for all of us to follow the guidance.”