Government's Eat-Out-To-Help-Out scheme 'triggered thousands of extra Covid cases'

A damning new newspaper has claimed the government’s “Eat-Out-to-Help-Out” program has sparked thousands of additional Covid cases.

The £ 850 million subsidized meals initiative was set to help the hard-hit hospitality industry bounce back after the first Covid-19 lockdown last year.

However, a new report in the Economic Journal suggests that the program actually “accelerated” a second wave of Covid cases by increasing the transmission of the virus in the community.

The results suggest that Eat-Out-To-Help-Out (EOHO) may have been responsible for about 11 percent of all newly discovered Covid-19 clusters in the UK, which emerged in August and early September last year.

As part of the program, the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages in participating restaurants across the country was directly subsidized by up to 50 percent for meals served from 3.

The discount was limited to a maximum of £ 10 per person, but there was no limit to how often people could benefit from it.

Figures suggest the government subsidized 160 million meals for the taxpayer at a cost of £ 849 million. Restaurant visits increased dramatically Monday through Wednesday, where there is usually less trading. According to official government statistics, more than 59,000 companies have registered for the program.

The researchers found that the program had a “significant” temporary impact on dining out when they compared the year-on-year changes from the OpenTable booking service. On days when the program was available, restaurant visits increased between 10 and 200 percent.

However, the data also suggests that the program may have moved dining out from the weekend to days of the week when the discount was available and that the increased number of dining out was temporary.

The study co-author, Professor Thiemo Fetzer of Warwick University, said: “Areas with higher participation in the Eat-Out-to-Help-Out program saw a remarkable increase in new Covid- 19 infection clusters and a slowdown in infections within two weeks of the end of the program.

“Areas with significant rainfall during peak lunch and dinner times on days when the program was active, reducing the likelihood of customers visiting restaurants and consuming the subsidized meals, had lower rates of infection.

“The empirical estimates suggest that the subsidized restaurant meal program could be responsible for about 11 percent of all newly discovered Covid-19 clusters that emerge in the UK in August and early September.”

He continued, “The numbers suggest that the EOHO regimen could have caused between 4,798 and 6,643 symptomatic infections, or 7,759 and 21,824 total infections, including direct asymptomatic cases.

“This estimate is unlikely to capture the full pandemic impact of the EOHO program as it will spread well beyond calendar weeks 32-36. The estimates will probably not cover the entire chain of further infections. “

Prof. Fetzer added: “The most noticeable point of the divergence between the UK’s fiscal response and that of other countries was a large-scale demand-boosting measure targeting the restaurant sector.

“A total of £ 850 million was spent in August to subsidize the cost of dining in restaurants by up to 50 percent. This came at a time when epidemiological studies suggested that dining in restaurants could be a particularly risky environment.

“This paper shows that the Eat-Out-to-Help-Out program, hailed as a blessing to the troubled sector, has caused the spread of Covid-19 in the community to increase.

“By subsidizing economic activity associated with negative external health effects, estimates suggest that the system may have been responsible for between eight percent and 17 percent of all newly discovered COVID-19 infections – and likely not for many more discovered asymptomatic infections. in late summer.

“This underscores the fact that fiscal measures to cushion the economic impact of Covid-19 need to pay special attention to epidemiological risks, otherwise they can significantly worsen the course of the pandemic and undermine short-term economic benefits.”

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