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A Sage Scientist Has Warned The Treasury Not To Bring Back The "Unwise" Eat Out to Help Out Scheme in December

A Sage Scientist Has Warned The Treasury Not To Bring Back The 'Unwise' Eat Out to Help Out Scheme in December
3 min read

A Sage scientist has warned the Treasury against bringing back "unwise" measures like Eat Out to Help Out after the English lockdown ends in December.

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said he could not think of many epidemiologists who thought the government-sponsored programme to get people eating out again was a good idea at the time, and it would be unhelpful to reinstate it.

When the restrictions end on December 2, he said there will still have to be significant rules in place to keep the rate of infection down. 

"So we're not just going to be returning to Eat Out To Help Out. I really hope we don't, come December. That would be really unwise. We have to stay with some restrictions in place to keep the epidemmic at a low level," said Professor Edmunds, who is part of the Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The Treasury has made no suggestion that it is likely to bring back the scheme, which ran Monday to Wednesday throughout August and provided a discount on 100 million meals.

Edmunds was speaking at an Institute for Government discussion on Friday, on how the government should balance scientific and economic advice in dealing with the pandemic. 

Eat Out to Help Out has endured widespread criticism that it may have contributed to the rising cases circulating this autumn. The scheme was implemented after Chancellor Rishi Sunak overrode concerns from the permanent secretary of HMRC, that it would not provide value for money.

When asked about whether it had been a factor, Sunak said in October that the UK is following global trends and that the higher numbers were "more a feature just of the virus and the season than anything specific."

He also highlighted how the South West had seen the greatest use of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme which has been a region with some of the lowest incidences of coronavirus.

Edmunds said the scheme had never been one scientists had wholeheartedly backed.

He said: "I can't imagine many epidemologists suggesting that was a good idea, quite honestly." He said the next phase following December 2 will still need to involve tight restrictions on everyday life. 

While Tier 3 has worked and brought the R-rate down close to one, he said the problem is the tiers underneath that do not supress the virus as well. 

"After we've released from lockdown we will still have to have restrictions in place to stop it coming back. The idea is to bring the incidence down and then hold it at that lower level, than the level it is at now."

On Wednesday, six people were arrested in connection with coronavirus relief fraud, including bounceback loans and Eat Out to Help Out.

Former permanent secretary to the Treasury, Lord Macpherson, said Eat Out to Help Out may have been part of the optimism in the summer over the possibility of a v-shaped recovery, considering the the lower rate of the virus. 

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