Downing Street has refused to criticise Tory donor and Wetherspoon pub boss for saying he intends to keep all his bars open throughout the coronavirus pandemic and claimed there has been ‘hardly any transmission of the virus within pubs’.
Tim Martin said it was ‘over the top’ to shut down pubs just a day after the government’s chief scientific adviser warned that ‘mixing in pubs and restaurants’ was spreading the disease and needed to stop.
The 64-year-old Brexiteer and former heavy smoker, who also said he would take the opportunity to catch the coronavirus under the right conditions, told Sky News: ‘Our aim is for pubs open during the duration.
‘This could go on for a long time. I think once you shut them down it’s very difficult.
‘Supermarkets are very crowded, pubs are much less crowded. There’s hardly been any transmission of the virus within pubs and I think it’s over the top to shut them.
‘That’s a commercial view but it’s also a common sense view.’
Businessman Martin, who describes himself as an ex-heavy smoker with two major operations under his belt, earlier said he would take his chances with the deadly disease.
‘If someone offered me the opportunity now to have it under supervised conditions, I think I’d probably take it because your chances are very, very good,’ he told reporters on a call on Friday.
People with underlying conditions and the elderly have been warned by the Government to stay inside as much as possible as they are at the biggest risk of dying.
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Martin also compared his chain of pubs to parliament, where MPs are still sitting, though only those with questions were allowed into Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.
‘You’d be aghast if every MP was sitting next to every other MP, but it’s right that it should stay open on a sensible basis’, he said.
He said that ‘reasonable social distancing’ would happen automatically in Wetherspoons as the number of punters drop.
Martin also said that he could introduce rules which prevent people from standing at the bar, and getting staff to clean down the surfaces twice an hour.
The millionaire also said that one of his pubs had introduced a regulars-only policy. This would not be possible to roll-out to all Wetherspoons outlets, but it is ‘one of a variety of moves’ available to management.
‘Closure is much more draconian, and we don’t think that it brings health benefits, and it certainly doesn’t bring economic benefits,’ he added.
Labour MP Louise Haigh said on Twitter: ‘It is deeply irresponsible to be broadcasting Tim Martin’s ill-informed, profit-motivated, literally dangerous opinions at this time of national crisis.’
Downing Street declined to criticise Conservative Party donor Martin’s comments.
A Number 10 spokesman said: ‘We have been clear about the importance of social distancing and the need for people, especially in vulnerable groups and in other age groups, to do so.
‘We have been clear about our guidance around social gatherings and again we have asked the public to do what we have asked the public to do.’
Asked if he was nervous about criticising political supporters of the prime minister, the spokesman said: ‘We’ve based all our decisions on the best scientific evidence and we will continue to do so.’