‘Eat out to help out’ was bad for our health | Covid inquiry

I was astounded to read Larry Elliott’s suggestion that “Eat out to help out” was a bad idea only “with the benefit of hindsight”, when its main effect, felt acutely across the country, was to broadcast the end of a coordinated government response (It’s easy to condemn ‘eat out to help out’, but Sunak’s motivations were justified, 14 December). Instead, we were given the first hint of Rishi Sunak’s backdoor neoliberalism: handed back our taxes and told to go to the pub – or not – while the market would magically sort everything out. The announcement immediately changed the discourse from “have you heard the latest guidelines?” to “what rules are you still sticking to?”. It made it clear that the government was fractured, with parts of it no longer interested in a collective approach or taking aboard expert advice. We were on our own.

There was no justification for the Treasury to join in with its own crazy ideas. Yes, crazy. Viruses spread when we interact. Locking down reduces interactions. We all know pandemics are bad for the economy, but that does not make it “right” or “valid” for the Treasury to fly in the face of public health advice in the middle of a pandemic.
Michael Clerx

It is not hindsight to say that “Eat out to help out” was a poor idea from a health perspective. It was criticised by epidemiologists and others at the time. One of the issues raised at the time was that the scheme would disproportionately force back into work people from minority ethnic communities who had higher rates of Covid mortality. If these staff were on furlough, the return to work may not have benefited them, either from an economic or medical standpoint.

A much better use of the money spent on “Eat out to help out” would have been to install filtration systems in schools during the first lockdown to enable them to reopen sooner. If schools had been able to fully open sooner, the damage to the economy and educational outcomes would have been less.
Angelique Fairbrass
Prenton, Merseyside

Larry Elliott says that that lockdowns were “untried and untested” before Italy implemented one in March 2020. In fact, lockdowns and quarantine have been used for centuries. A striking example would be the outcomes of the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed roughly a quarter of inhabitants in Western Samoa, the highest rate recorded. Despite the close cultural links with the New Zealand-governed colony, American Samoa successfully excluded the infection for years. It was the largest known state to avoid any deaths from the pandemic. This was due to Commandant John Poyer, who ordered quarantine against all traffic from outside the colony in October 1918.

The UK’s Covid outcomes are entwined with the issue of longstanding social and economic disadvantage and disparity. On 1 August 2020, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Graham Medley, when commenting on various forms of opening up, said: “It might come down to a question of which do you trade off against each other … do we think pubs are more important than schools?” In terms of long-term outcomes for the socially disadvantaged, I think many people would agree that schooling seems more fundamental than getting back to the minimum wage a few weeks earlier.
Dr Bridget MacDonald

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