The Eat Out to Help Out scheme is a recurring theme in the Covid Inquiry. A witness statement from Rishi Sunak was shown to the inquiry on Monday.
I don’t recall any concerns about the scheme being expressed during ministerial discussions, including those attended by Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty and then-Chief Scientific Officer Sir Patrick Vallance.
Patrick Vallance responded: “We didn’t see it before it was announced, and I think others in the Cabinet Office also said they didn’t see it before it was formulated as policy. So we weren’t involved in the run-up to it.”
He added: “I think it would have been very obvious to anyone that this inevitably would cause an increase in transmission risk, and I think that would have been known by ministers.”
It’s not evident to us, so we thought we’d look at the evidence – something the inquiry isn’t too keen on.
Several approaches can be taken to look at the issue. First, we examine the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out statistics and geographic breakdown commentary.
It follows that the areas with the most participating outlets would have the most infections. One example is the South West, which claimed 11 million meals, nearly as many as the total for the South East or the North West. Yet cases kept falling until mid-Sep in the South West.
Cornwall (see the dark blue at the bottom left of the U.K. map) became the centre of the U.K.’s holiday destination as so many couldn’t leave the country. However, Vallance would have us believe that Cornwall, the Scottish Highlands and other scattered areas were the highest risk.
As it doesn’t fit the narrative, let’s also look instead at cases in Northern Europe – the answer might be that while U.K. cases were going through the roof in 2020, European cases may have flatlined or disappeared due to the lack of an eat-out scheme. As the data show, it’s not that straightforward.