Boris Johnson Has Admitted The "Eat Out To Help Out" Scheme Could Have Helped Spread Coronavirus
Boris Johnson has admitted Eat Out to Help Out may have helped spread Covid-19, but defended the scheme, saying he wanted to protect two million jobs in hospitality.
It came as the Prime Minister told people they must “behave fearlessly but with common sense” as he warned of the UK could still be in for a "tough winter”.
Speaking as the annual Conservative Party conference gets underway, he responded to criticism from his backbenchers saying if he behaved with his usual “buoyancy and elan” to deal with the pandemic “people would think that was totally inappropriate”.
Asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show if drives to get people into restaurants and back in the office had helped spread the virus, Mr Johnson said: "We had to go into lockdown in March and April and that was effective in bringing the virus down.
"I think it was right to reopen the economy. I think if we hadn't done that Andrew, if we hadn't got things moving again in the summer, I mean we would be looking at many more hundreds of thousands of jobs lost."
In response to the suggestion the flagship Eat Out To Help Out programme had a negative impact on tackling Covid-19 he replied: ”It unquestionably helped to protect many... [of the] two million jobs at least in the hospitality sector.
"It was very important to keep those jobs going.
“Now, if it, insofar as that scheme may have helped to spread the virus, then obviously we need to counteract that and we need to counteract that with the discipline and the measures that we're proposing."
He went on to say: "On the one hand we have the imperative to save life, it is a moral imperative to save life if we possibly can.
"On the other hand we have to keep our economy moving and our society going.
"That is the balance that we are trying to strike and that's why we have got the package of measures now that are in force both nationally and locally.
"What we want people to do is behave fearlessly but with common sense, to follow the guidance - whether national or local - get the virus down but allow us as a country to continue with our priorities.”
The PM admitted people are “furious” at him and the government, but added: “I've got to tell you in all candour it's going to continue to be bumpy through to Christmas, it may even be bumpy beyond.
"But this is the only way to do it."
He added it “could be a very tough winter for all of us”, however he said he also wanted to offer hope, saying: ”It is up to Government to show we have the tools and the imagination and the creativity to get through this and we certainly will.
"And if you ask me 'do I think things can be significantly different by Christmas?' Yes I do, and we're working flat-out to achieve that.”
He said the situation will look "radically different" come the spring because “that is the normal cycle of a pandemic like this”.
And on a potential vaccine for coronavirus Mr Johnson said: "It's possible that we will make significant progress on the vaccine this year.
"I went to see the scientists at AstraZeneca in Oxford and those teams and they seem to be doing fantastically well.
"But I don't want to get people's hopes up on the vaccine unnecessarily because I think there is a chance but it is not certain.”
Asked about the criticism of his handling of the coronavirus crisis by his own MPs the PM said: "I think the reality is this is a Government that is facing an unprecedented crisis and I think if people wanted me to approach it with the sort of buoyancy and elan and the qualities I usually bring to things, I think people would think that was totally inappropriate.”
Responding to comments made by Tory former minister Steve Baker criticising the lockdown, he said: ”Nobody in my position wants to do any of the things that we've had to do.
"I'm a freedom-loving Tory... I don't want to have to impose measures like this, are you crazy?
"This is the last thing we want to do. But I also have to save life. And that's our priority."
And he said the reports he was still suffering physically from his own case of coronavirus were “balderdash".
"No, no, not in my case”, he said when asked if he had "long" Covid.
"This is total tittle tattle, it is drivel. It is not tittle tattle, it is balderdash and nonsense.
"I can tell you I'm fitter than several butchers' dogs."