Chancellor defends Eat Out scheme amid questions over increasing coronavirus infections

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak - Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak has defended his Eat Out To Help Out scheme after suggestions it could have contributed to the increase in the spread of Coronavirus.

The chancellor said  he felt it would be “simplistic” to connect any one thing to the rise in cases, which has prompted new restrictions aimed at preventing a second national lockdown.

But some scientists have questioned whether it could have contributed to the surge in the virus’s spread as the public are again told to work from home if they can.

Sunak did not directly answer whether the government’s scientific advisers had modelled what the impact of his scheme could be on the spread of the disease.

But he told a Downing Street press conference that the UK was “following similar paths” to other European nations.
 

He said: “So I think it’s probably simplistic to look at any one thing, what’s happening here is similar to what’s happening in many other countries.


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“There are lots of things going on at the same time towards the last few weeks and as we get into a season for respiratory illnesses so there’s going to be lots of different factors at play as to why the virus is acting in the way it is.

“But more broadly I don’t think it’s the wrong thing for the government or indeed people to want to try and get their lives back to normal.”

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More than 100 million cut price meals were eaten across the UK under the programme to boost the economy by encouraging consumers to dine out after months of being told to stay indoors.

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage), this week suggested the scheme may have made a small contribution to the virus’s resurgence.

He told Sky News: “I think it was bordering on experimental. I don’t think it was particularly helpful as far as the virus control goes.”

But he said he suspected that eating out in “most cases, in most restaurants had a marginal effect on containing the virus” and pubs were a larger concern.

Toby Phillips, a public policy researcher at Oxford University, found a “loose correlation” between the scheme and new cases in August but said it was “impossible” to know if it was the cause.

In an article for The Conversation, he said: “Again, this isn’t to say that the scheme caused those cases, but it certainly didn’t discourage those people from going out.”

The scheme saw the treasury pay a 50% discount of up to £10 on meals and soft drinks between Mondays and Wednesdays in August, prompting a jump in bookings.

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