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Study: UK’s Restaurant Subsidies Helped Boost Spread Of COVID-19

The U.K.’s Eat Out to Help Out campaign — which offered a 50 percent discount at restaurants on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during August — was dramatically successful in boosting sales. The taxpayers shelled out $647 million for the rescue program, which subsidized the cost of meals and nonalcoholic drinks.

A new study, however, said the program may have also contributed to boosting the spread of COVID-19, Bloomberg reported.

The study, conducted by the University of Warwick, found that the program may have pumped up coronavirus cases from 8 percent to 17 percent during the summer alone. And the resulting asymptomatic infections may have helped fuel the current surge of coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom, Bloomberg said.

In some areas, there was “both a notable increase in new COVID-19 infection clusters within a week of the scheme starting, and again a deceleration in infections within two weeks of the program ending,” said Thiemo Fetzer, an associate professor of economics.

Now, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done an about-face. In August, his goal was to reopen the economy. He has now ordered a one-month stay-at-home policy for England beginning on Thursday (Nov. 5).

Johnson’s restaurant stimulus program was so successful that visits more than doubled in the last week of the program compared with the same period a year earlier, Bloomberg said. The discount offered was worth as much as 10 pounds per person to eat out in tens of thousands of participating restaurants.

The U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that “at least 35 million meals were served up in the first two weeks alone; that is equivalent to over half of the U.K. taking part and supporting local jobs in the hospitality sector.”

In September, a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that patrons of restaurants and bars are more likely to contract COVID-19.

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