For the plan, dubbed “Eat Out to Help Out,” the government paid half of everyone’s restaurant bills up to 10 pounds per meal every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in August — for all diners, in groups of any size, as often as people wanted, indoors or out. At the time, face masks were not required in most eating establishments. According to Boris Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak, the point of the plan was to help save jobs in the restaurant industry.
The public was more than happy to eat on the government’s dime and did so 100 million times between August 3 and 31, at a cost of £522 million (about $694 million), per Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the IRS of the UK.
The public health community reacted to the plan with horror. “In a word, it’s nuts,” says Lawrence Gostin, director of the WHO Center on National and Global Health Law, professor of global health law at Georgetown University, and a research fellow at Oxford University. “In the midst of a pandemic, it’s actually directly opposite to what the public health evidence suggests.”
The move was made despite evidence available since early in the pandemic that eating indoors, close to others, is a high-risk activity for spreading the virus.