Covid Inquiry: Scientists "weren't involved" in Eat Out to Help Out scheme

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme aimed to help the hospitality sector during the Covid-19 pandemice. (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)The Eat Out to Help Out scheme aimed to help the hospitality sector during the Covid-19 pandemice. (Picture: AFP via Getty Images)
The Eat Out to Help Out scheme aimed to help the hospitality sector during the Covid-19 pandemice. (Picture: AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images
Rishi Sunak said he does not recall any pushback from scientists over the programme.

An initiative to get people back into restaurants during the Covid-19 pandemic was brought about without the involvement of scientists.

At the ongoing Covid-19 Inquiry, it was revealed today (20 November) by former chief medical adviser Sir Patrick Vallance that scientists in Westminster had no input into the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. The initiative was introduced by then chancellor Rishi Sunak to put bums on seats in struggling restaurants, cafes and pubs, with major discounts bankrolled by the government.

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The initiative was launched by Sunak in August 2020 in order to kickstart the restaurant sector following the first lockdown. Former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick told the Covid Inquiry: “I think our advice would have been very clear on that (Eat Out to Help Out).”

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. 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.”

Sir Patrick added that Boris Johnson - who he previously described as being "bamboozled" by Covid data - was also dismissive of the impact of long Covid.

He said: "I think he (Boris Johnson) didn’t really think it was a big, big problem. I mean, he recognised it, because we described three different long-term consequences.

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“There was the post-intensive care syndrome that some people get, that’s a well-recognised problem. There was organ damage that some people got from Covid. That’s a very well-recognised clear problem. Then as long Covid, which was much more ill-defined, and I think he was, as it says here, he was sceptical about that.

“I don’t think was keen to take that into account for policymaking.”

Downing Street declined to say whether Rishi Sunak thought it would be okay to “just let people die” during the pandemic, saying it would be for the Prime Minister to set out his position during evidence before the Covid Inquiry.

"The Prime Minister is due to give evidence before the inquiry at the time of their choosing. That’s when he’ll set out his position,” Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said.

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No 10 would not be drawn on whether the PM had consulted scientists on the transmission risk of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme before announcing it. The Downing Street official said a number of people will be setting out their views of the period, but “rather than respond to each one in piecemeal, it’s right that it is looked at alongside other evidence”.

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