During a meeting in September 2020, Chris Whitty reportedly coined the term ‘eat out to help the virus’ in reference to Rishi Sunak’s policy aimed at supporting restaurants during the Covid pandemic.
The former prime minister, Boris Johnson, revealed this information, stating that the chief medical officer made the comment weeks after the launch of the ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ initiative.
At the time, Sunak, who served as chancellor, introduced the scheme to aid the hospitality industry’s recovery from the economic repercussions of lockdown. Under this initiative, the Treasury covered 50% of restaurant bills.
However, the ongoing inquiry has disclosed that neither Whitty nor chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance were consulted beforehand regarding the potential impact of the policy on the spread of Covid.
In his second day of providing evidence to the Covid inquiry, Johnson recounted the moment in the meeting: “I think it was something like September 16 or thereabouts… when I heard Chris Whitty in a Covid-S [strategy meeting] say ‘It’s eat out to help the virus’ and he looked at me meaningfully. I thought, ‘well, that’s funny because I didn’t remember this being something that had previously seemed to attract objection or controversy.’”
The upcoming inquiry session will reportedly scrutinise Sunak about the controversial policy. Simultaneously, Johnson admitted his error in asserting, in his written evidence to the inquiry, that the government’s scientific advisers had been consulted before the launch of ‘Eat Out To Help Out.’
He clarified that he assumed they had been informed in advance of the initiative. Johnson stated, “I don’t understand how something so well-publicised as that could have been smuggled past the scientific advice.”
Boris Johnson has said Eat Out to Help Out was not seen as a “gamble” at the time and that he was “perplexed” at the suggestion top scientists were unaware of the scheme.