06 Oct Coronavirus: Chancellor Rishi Sunak defends Eat Out To Help Out scheme in face of UK’s second wave | Politics News
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has defended encouraging people back to pubs and restaurants over the summer, prior to the government being forced to take fresh action to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Mr Sunak‘s “Eat Out To Help Out” scheme handed Britons discounted meals during August, as ministers attempted to restart the economy after the UK’s lockdown.
Pubs, bars and restaurants – along with the rest of the hospitality industry – have since been handed a 10pm curfew as the government attempts to deal with a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
At the weekend Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed the meals discount programme for protecting jobs, but he suggested new measures were needed to “counteract” the possible impact of the scheme on the spread of transmssion.
But, speaking to Sky News on Tuesday, the chancellor played down a link between his scheme and the growing rise in cases across the country as he cautioned against “jumping to simplistic conclusions”.
“More broadly, if you think of the spread of the virus this time around, what’s happening here is pretty much in sync with what’s happening around the world in second waves,” he said.
“Whether it’s France or Spain, where very specifically our scientists said we were following exactly the same curve.
“So, actually, this seems to be more a feature just of the virus and the season than anything specific.”
Mr Sunak highlighted how the South West had seen the greatest use of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, in proportion to the size of the local population, and was now a region with some of the lowest incidences of COVID-19 “anywhere in the country”.
Between 10 August and 20 September, Public Health England (PHE) said that – among people who tested positive for COVID-19 – eating out was the most commonly reported activity in the two to seven days prior to the onset of symptoms.
But Mr Sunak warned of a “big difference between correlation and causation”, adding: “I would be, I guess, cautious about jumping to simplistic conclusions.”
He also said different analysis of PHE data had revealed “a very small percentage” of the causes of transmission were hospitality settings.
“One thing we know is, and I speak to our scientists almost every day, it’s incredibly difficult at such a granular level to poinpoint exactly the cause of transmission,” he continued.
“So I think we should have some humility about our ability to do that.”
Mr Sunak also pointed to how household mixing within homes was the “key source” of transmission in parts of the country, such as the Midlands.
“Depending on where you are in the country the exact source of the virus spread will vary and that’s why our response can be targeted and nuanced to the situation we confront,” he said.