The coronavirus pandemic has affected many lives, lives of not only citizens from all classes, ethnicities, and countries but also of businesses and the livelihoods of those who run them. Over the summer the UK government, therefore, introduced the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme to sustain the catering and hospitality industries. Now recent research suggests the scheme might’ve singlehandedly increased a 5th of the coronavirus cases in the UK.
Over the summer the scheme according to a paper from Thiemo Fetzer from the University of Warwick could be linked to the rising cases the country has seen thus far. The scheme which was funded by the government introduced discounts on non-alcoholic drinks as well as food items in businesses that were participating in the scheme. This took place throughout the month of August.
Fetzer found in his research that the coronavirus cases in the UK rose quickly in areas where a lot of restaurants were partaking in the scheme and were offering discounts. After the scheme ended the infections also appeared to ease out over the summer. This is an interesting note because it may suggest that the scheme was causing them to rise in the first place.
Using rainfall to try and estimate the cause Fetzer evaluated whether the increase was very well due to the program or something else. He found through his methods that in the areas where there was most of the rain during dinner and lunch hours from Monday to Wednesday of August, fewer individuals went out to eat and therefore fewer people caught the lethal virus.
The same pattern however did not take place on different days of the week even if it did rain, this, therefore, suggested that the scheme could be given the entire responsibility for the increase in coronavirus cases in the UK.
Fetzer believes that the scheme is perhaps responsible for about 8-17% of the entire coronavirus cases, at least according to estimated data. These are the cases that were appearing during August as well as during early September in the UK.
The economist went on to say that seeing the rise of infections across the nation in these recent times, the likely cause for such a rise is the consumerist behavior that took place because of the scheme, in doing so this also caused economic damage, according to Fetzer any short-term benefit the scheme intended to reap is outstripped by the costs of public health and economic stability that came about the increases.
A spokesperson for the treasury however absolutely rejected the findings of the study. The government according to the spokesperson does not recognize the numbers.
The person went on to point our European case increases saying this was irrespective of the scheme introduction and that the government will continue to support and work with businesses very closely to help them survive the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jonathan Portes is a professor at King’s College London. He believes the methods Fetzer used were correct. Though he cautions saying the findings are not absolute proof and that several other confounders might’ve influenced cases to rise without considering the scheme. Still, however, he feels disgruntled by the way the treasury reacted to the study because it does have something for the government to consider and understand.