Pubs and restaurants claimed £849million through Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August

Coronavirus cases in England have rocketed since August – with studies blaming Eat Out to Help out for the surge (Image: PA)

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More than 160million discounted meals were dished out in August after the government launched the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, latest figures show.

HMRC said 49,000 restaurants, pubs and cafés had claimed £849 million by the end of September through the subsidy scheme aimed to boost consumer spending after the first national lockdown.

It said the majority of claims – 55% – were made by restaurants, with pubs accounting for 28% of meals.

The figures come just weeks after Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said he's looking into plans to "get consumers spending" when the current coronavirus restrictions end – hinting at a winter Eat Out to Help Out edition.

The Chancellor has not ruled out a second Eat Out to Help Out
(Image: Amer Ghazzal/REX/Shutterstock)

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Speaking to Sky News, Sunak said: "We'll talk about specific measures, but more broadly I think it's right when we finally exit this (lockdown) and hopefully next year with testing and vaccines, we'll be able to start to look forward to getting back to normal.

"We'll have to look forward to the economic situation then and see what the best form of our support.

"We want to get consumers spending again, get them out and about, we'll look at a range of things to see what the right interventions are at that time."

The Eat Out to Help Out scheme in August was responsible for the biggest yearly increase in non-essential spending since July 2019, as people flocked back to restaurants and pubs, according to the Lloyds Bank Spending Power Report.

It also meant non-essential spend was 4% higher than the year before – the first annual increase since lockdown.

But research suggested the scheme caused a significant rise in new coronavirus infections.

According to a study by the University of Warwick, a sharp increase in Covid-19 infection infections emerged a week after Eat Out to Help Out began.

At that time, between 8% and 17% of newly detected infection clusters could be linked to the scheme, the findings suggested.

Areas where there was a high uptake of Eat Out to Help Out also saw a decline in new infections a week after the scheme drew to a close.

He said: "I won't talk about specific measures but more broadly, I think it's right that when we finally exit this, and hopefully next year with testing and maybe indeed vaccines as well, we'll be able to start looking forward to getting back to normal.

Mr Sunak had previously played down a link between his scheme and a rise in coronavirus cases as he cautioned against "jumping to simplistic conclusions".

He told Sky News in October: "What's happening here is pretty much in sync with what's happening around the world in second waves."

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