Thursday, 26 Nov 2020

Eat Out to Help Out ‘accelerated coronavirus second wave’, damning report finds

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The government's Eat Out to Help Out Scheme triggered a "significant" rise in new coronavirus cases, a damning study has found.

According to research by the University of Warwick, the sharp increase in Covid-19 infection clusters emerged a week after the scheme began in August.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak's initiative was designed to boost the economy after the national lockdown and allowed pubs and restaurants to offer heavily discounted meals on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays in August.

But a study by the university found that between 8% and 17% of newly detected infection clusters could be linked back to the scheme.

Areas where there was a high uptake of Eat Out to Help Out also saw a decline in new infections a week after the scheme ended last month.

Places that experienced high rainfall around lunch and dinnertime also ended up seeing lower infection rates than areas that enjoyed nicer weather.

Restaurants which participated in the scheme saw between 10% and 200% increases in visits compared to the same period in 2019, but academics also found the economic benefits of the scheme were short-lived.

Dr Thiemo Fetzer, the report's author, said the scheme "contributed to community transmission" and "the acceleration of the second wave".

He told Sky News: "The UK saw a massive explosion of cases in a way that was not seen in other countries.

"It's that scheme that has helped to bring about an earlier second lockdown and restrictions on the restaurant sector that it was determined to help economically."

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Toby Phillips, executive director of the Oxford Covid-19 response tracker at the Blavatnik School of Government, said the scheme had encouraged people to adopt a "'back to normal' mindset" too early in the summer.

He added: "That creates this whiplash when one month you're being told 'get out there, have confidence, go back to business, back to normal' – and in the next month there's a new tier scheme being put in place."

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted Eat Out to Help Out may have contributed to a rise in coronavirus cases.

He told the BBC: "Insofar as that scheme may have helped to spread the virus then obviously we need to counteract that with the discipline and the measures that we're proposing."

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But the Treasury has cast doubt on the report, calling the study's figures "'back-of-the-envelope' calculations".

A spokesperson said: "Many other European counterparts have experienced an uptick in cases – irrespective of whether similar measures for the hospitality industry have been introduced.

"We're continuing to work closely with businesses to help them be Covid-secure."

It comes as experts warn England could have no free hospital beds by December unless more lockdowns are put in place.

Worrying data suggests more than 85,000 people could die unless measures are taken.

  • Coronavirus
  • Lockdown
  • Boris Johnson

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