Rishi Sunak's Eat Out to Help Out ‘spread Covid but was covered up’

The Prime Minister is under pressure over his ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme during the pandemic with claims of a ‘cover up’ and that it spread Covid.

Rishi Sunak’s flagship campaign encouraged the public to go out and support restaurants with 50% discounts for diners.

But now leaked messages show the concern from then Health Secretary Matt Hancock about how Eat Out to Help Out was spreading the virus.

It comes after Mr Hancock was said to want to ‘frighten the pants off’ the public during the pandemic.

Around 100,000 WhatsApp messages from then Health Secretary Matt Hancock were leaked earlier this week, and in new texts, Mr Hancock can be seen showing his disapproval of the initiative.

Eat Out to Help Out part of a package of measures launched by Mr Sunak in the summer of 2020.

In August 2020, while the scheme was still operating, Mr Hancock mentioned his concerns about it in messages to Simon Case, the then Downing Street permanent secretary in charge of the Civil Service response to Covid.

Mr Hanock told Mr Case that the scheme was driving up Covid cases in some of the worst hit areas and that the problems it was causing were ‘serious’.

But he added that he had ‘kept it out of the news’, according to the Telegraph.

He said the Treasury had been informed about the ‘problems’ the scheme was causing in Covid ‘intervention areas’.

‘We’ve been protecting them in the comms,’ he said, adding that ‘thankfully’ it has not yet ‘bubbled up’.

Eat Out to Help Out offered diners 50 per cent off food and non-alcoholic drinks on Mondays to Wednesdays in August, capped at £10 per head.

The final total cost to the taxpayer was £849 million – far in excess of the £500 million original forecast by the Treasury.

The Prime Minister has now been urged to ‘come clean’ about what he knew about the risks of the scheme and explain why ‘warnings were apparently ignored and evidence concealed.’

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: ‘We now know that Rishi Sunak’s Treasury was made aware of the evidence that his Eat Out to Help Out scheme was spreading Covid and risking public health.

‘These disturbing exchanges show the Prime Minister may have been complicit in a cover up when he was Chancellor to protect his own PR stunt at the expense of public safety.

‘He must now own up to what he knew and when about the risks, and explain why the warnings were apparently ignored and evidence concealed.’

Meanwhile, Lobby Akinnola of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said Mr Hancock’s messages ‘confirm what many have suspected for a long time – saving lives was not the priority for our Government’.

He added: ‘It is now laid bare before us; instead of listening to scientific experts, acting urgently to save lives when it was proven that Eat Out to Help Out was risking lives… our Government chose to treat the pandemic as a vanity project to garner political points.’

A study by Warwick University, published in October 2020, concluded that the scheme had ‘caused a significant rise in new infections… accelerating the pandemic into its current second wave’.

Academics claimed the scheme contributed between eight and 17 per cent of new Covid infections at the time.

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