Rishi Sunak has defended his Eat Out to Help Out scheme from suggestions it led to an increase in coronavirus infection rates.
“It’s a bit odd to ascribe causality in that way,” the chancellor told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday.
“Areas where Eat Out to Help Out was used the most, for example in the South West, were the slowest to see any rise and in fact had very low infection rates,” he sad.
“And almost all other major countries have had rises over the autumn and winter and they didn’t have Eat Out to Help Out.”
Asked in a separate interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show ahead of Wednesday’s Budget if the scheme would be re-introduced, Sunak said: “I’m not going to talk about future policy.”
The scheme offered half-price meals during the month of August as part of a stimulus package.
It was widely popular, with businesses claiming around £840 million from the Treasury and customers buying some 160 million cut-price meals.
A University of Warwick study concluded the scheme “may have substantially worsened the disease”.
The report was cited in a February 10 report by Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said “of course, it is likely there will be some transmission” when people meet in restaurants and pubs.
Asked during Friday’s No.10 press conference about Eat Out to Help Out, Van-Tam said “who pays the bill, or how much of the bill you have to pay for yourself” was a question for ministers.