Crowds pack coronavirus-hit London pubs after 'concerning' initiative launched

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·5-min read

People in Melbourne, you might want to cover your eyes.

Londoners have flocked to restaurants, cafes and pubs in the British capital to start the week after the government rolled out a new initiative to encourage people back into public spaces for a meal and a drink.

Boris Johnson and his government will pick up 50 per cent of the bill for roughly 72,000 cafes, pubs and restaurants across the country that have signed up to the half-price “eat out to help out” scheme designed to boost the hospitality industry hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Diners eat at a restaurant in London on Monday, local time. Source: AAP
Diners eat at a restaurant in London on Monday. Source: AAP

The taxpayer funded scheme is capped at a discount of £10 ($18) per person, and will run through August on Mondays to Wednesdays.

After the first day, it appears to have had the desired effect with early shopping data showing a 30 per cent jump in foot traffic on British high streets from the previous Monday, The Guardian reported.

Will Beckett, co-founder of the Hawksmoor group of steakhouses, said his London restaurants were fully booked on the days the government’s offer is available to the public.

Diners enjoy their drinks as they sit at tables outside a restaurant in London following the government's offer. Source: Getty
Diners enjoy their drinks as they sit at tables outside a restaurant in London following the government's offer. Source: Getty

“We have had 15,000 bookings for the 13 days. We weren't planning to open Air Street [near Piccadilly Circus] on Mondays and Tuesdays, but we changed our minds and now we have 300 covers a night booked in,” he told the Evening Standard.

The UK has endured more than 306,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 46,200 deaths (the fourth highest toll in the world) during the pandemic but has not seen a second wave after successfully clamping down on large-scale spread of the virus.

But the disease is far from gone.

On August 3, England reported 854 new coronavirus cases while new cases in London continue to hover around 60 to 70 a day.

Last week, 19 people were confirmed to have died in London hospitals from COVID-19.

Not everyone thinks the scheme is the best idea. Source: Getty
Not everyone thinks the scheme is the best idea. Source: Getty

Dr Nisreen Alwan, an epidemiologist and Associate Professor in Public Health at the University of Southampton was among those to question the government’s scheme.

She took to social media lamenting the fact the promotion didn’t extend to takeaway services, suggesting it would be a simple way to reduce to risk of virus transmission in the community with the same economic boon.

“Why can’t this scheme apply to takeaways? Less risk of virus transmission and still benefits businesses,” she wrote.

Photos online showed people queuing outside McDonald’s restaurants and outdoor areas of pubs and restaurants overflowing with patrons in London.

Hundreds of people have taken to social media to share a photo of their meal and receipts in support of the government’s generous offer but others have not embraced the idea.

Many Britons said a discount wasn’t enough to lure them to a “packed restaurant in a pandemic” with some suggesting there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

“Apparently the virus won't harm you if there's a discount involved,” one joked.

Britain rolls out 90 minute tests as ministers fret over second wave

Just last week, British ministers fretted about a second wave of cases in Europe and warned more quarantine restrictions were possible.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said COVID-19 was under some measure of control in Britain, but a resurgence in some European countries showed the pandemic was not over.

“It is absolutely vital as a country that we continue to keep our focus and our discipline, and that we don’t delude ourselves that somehow we are out of the woods or that that is all over, because it isn’t all over,” he said.

Reflecting rising cases in some European countries, Britain has already reimposed a 14-day quarantine period on people arriving from Spain, a move that caused havoc with the reopening of the continent for tourism in the summer high season.

On Monday (local time), England’s Health Minister said the country will roll out millions of COVID-19 tests able to detect the virus within 90 minutes.

The tests, which don’t need to be administered by health professional, will be deployed to hospitals, care homes and laboratories to boost the country’s capacity to fight the novel coronavirus in the coming months.

“The fact these tests can detect flu as well as COVID-19 will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others,” Health Minister Matt Hancock said.

with Reuters

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