UK's increased coronavirus cases linked to discount dining program, study claims

The 'Eat Out to Help Out' program may be to blame for a spike in coronavirus cases

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A discount dining program launched in the U.K. to help restaurants and pubs rebound following coronavirus lockdowns seems to have contributed to an uptick in COVID-19 cases, a new study suggests.

New research from the University of Warwick claims to have found evidence that ties at least part of the U.K.'s latest wave of COVID-19 infections to restaurants, and specifically after the British government shelled out $647 million, according to Bloomberg, to subsidize the cost of restaurant meals and drinks in August.

In July, the U.K. launched a discount dining incentive program to promote spending at restaurants, bars and cafes that were devastated financially from closings earlier this year due to COVID-19. The subsidized meal program, called “Eat Out to Help Out,” boasted half-priced meals (up to a certain monetary value) from Monday to Wednesday, to get more people interested in dining out.

A discount dining program launched in the U.K. could be partially to blame for increased COVID-19 cases, new research finds.

A discount dining program launched in the U.K. could be partially to blame for increased COVID-19 cases, new research finds. (iStock)

However, researchers suggest that while the program boosted restaurant traffic, it could be to blame for between 8% and 17% of coronavirus cases that occurred across the pond between the summer months of August and into September, fueling a second wave of the virus.

CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN IN ENGLAND COULD LAST LONGER THAN 4 WEEKS 

Thiemo Fetzer, an economist at the University of Warwick and author of the paper “Subsidizing the spread of COVID19: Evidence from the UK's Eat-Out-to-Help-Out scheme,” published in the Centre for Economic Policy Research, discovered that the coronavirus spread faster in concentrated areas with restaurants that participated in the discounted dining program, and the infection rate slowed in those same areas once the program concluded.

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“Areas with higher take-up saw both, a notable increase in new COVID19 infection clusters within a week of the scheme starting, and again, a deceleration in infections within two weeks of the program ending,” Fetzer noted in the paper.

There were also lower infection rates in areas that experienced rainy days — and restaurant traffic decreased — when compared to areas with nicer weather.

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week ordered a nationwide lockdown after the country surpassed one million COVID-19 cases, amid a second wave of the virus and the threat of overcrowding hospitals.