According to a new study from the University of Warwick, the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme caused a “significant” rise in new coronavirus infections.
Introduced in August, the government’s Eat Out to Help Out initiative was spearheaded by chancellor Rishi Sunak, designed to boost the economy following the effects of the national lockdown. As a result, pubs and restaurants were able to offer discounted meals from Mondays-to-Wednesdays throughout August. Throughout the month, around 100 million meals were subsidised, at a cost of more than £500 million.
As well as contributing to the “acceleration” of the pandemic, the University of Warwick’s recently published study suggests a sharp increase in COVID-19 infection clusters emerged a week after the scheme began, and areas with a high uptake of Eat Out To Help Out saw a decline in new infection rates a week after the scheme drew to a close. It suggests that between 8 per cent and 17 per cent of newly detected infection clusters could be linked to the Eat Out To Help Out scheme.
This news follows research published by Public Health England last month, suggesting food outlets and restaurants were responsible for an average of 5.18 per cent of new cases for 11 weeks from 9th July (the week after pubs and restaurants re-opened), with care homes responsible for the highest number of new cases (over 40 per cent).
The University of Warwick’s report also shows places that experienced high rainfall around lunch and dinnertime saw lower infection rates than areas that enjoyed nicer weather.
While participating restaurants saw an increase in visits of up to 200 per cent compared to the same period in 2019, academics have since concluded that the economic benefits of the scheme were short lived.
The study’s publication follows Boris Johnson admitting, earlier this month, that the Eat Out To Help Out initiative may have exacerbated the rise in COVID-19 cases seen across the UK in recent months.
“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,” Boris Johnson told the BBC.
In response to the University of Warwick’s research, Toby Phillips, executive director of the Oxford COVID-19 response tracker at the Blavatnik School of Government, has agreed that the findings were credible, aligning with his previous work looking at the surge in restaurant visits during the Eat Out To Help Out scheme.