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JD Wetherspoon's Tim Martin: Pubs are safer than staying home for COVID-19

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
Tim Martin, chairman and founder of pubs group Wetherspoon, attends an interview with Reuters at the Metropolitan Bar in London January 13, 2012. British pubs firm JD Wetherspoon is ready to scale back expansion plans and blames a tough tax regime for exacerbating already dire trading conditions, Chairman and founder Tim Martin told Reuters in an interview on Friday.REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS FOOD)
Tim Martin, chairman and founder of pubs group Wetherspoon. Photo: REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

The boss of pub chain JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) has said fears of COVID-19 spreading in pubs are overblown, pleading with the government not to impose any further restrictions on the hospitality industry.

In a statement on Monday, Tim Martin said the safety of pubs had been “widely misunderstood.”

"It is clearly not the case that pubs are ‘dangerous places to be’,” the Wetherspoon founder and chairman of Wetherspoon said.

"There have been more positive cases at one farm in Hereford than at all Wetherspoon pubs — and over four times as many at one sandwich-making facility in Northampton.”

Watch: Revellers head out before rule of 6 comes into force

READ MORE: Eat Out to Help Out is propping up Wetherspoon during COVID-19

Martin, who has been outspoken on COVID-19, said 66 members of staff at the pub chain had tested positive for COVID-19 since its 861 sites reopened on 4 July. The pub chain employs more than 41,000 people across the UK.

Martin said 32 million people have visited Wetherspoon pubs since they reopened two months ago. He did not supply similar figures showing how many of those visitors had contracted COVID-19.

A customer reacts as he walks with two pints of beer past an information board giving advice on new anti-covid measures inside the Wetherspoon pub, Goldengrove in Stratford in east London on July 4, 2020, as restrictions are further eased during the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Pubs in England reopen on Saturday for the first time since late March, bringing cheer to drinkers and the industry but fears of public disorder and fresh coronavirus cases. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
A customer reacts as he walks past an information board giving advice on new anti-covid measures inside the Wetherspoon pub, Goldengrove, in Stratford in east London on July 4, 2020. Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Martin said Wetherspoon had invested £15m ($18.9m) in social distancing measures and extra hygiene at its pubs and suggested they were in fact safer than people’s homes.

“The data we have shows that the infection rate has risen, mainly due to social interactions, particularly private household gatherings,” Martin said.

“In shops and hospitality venues there are strict measures in place to ensure they are COVID-free, whereas it is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone's house, where people are more relaxed and less vigilant.

READ MORE: JD Wetherspoon cancels dividend as business slumps

“Although it is clearly possible for COVID-19 infections to take place in pubs and shops, the evidence indicates that the risk is low, provided social distancing and hygiene rules are followed, and common sense is used.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 04: The Mossy Well, a J D Wetherspoon pub reopen for business in Muswell Hill on July 4, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. The UK Government announced that Pubs, Hotels and Restaurants can open from Saturday, July 4th providing they follow guidelines on social distancing and sanitising. (Photo by Peter Dench/Getty Images)
The Mossy Well, a J D Wetherspoon pub reopen for business in Muswell Hill on July 4, 2020 in London, United Kingdom. Photo: Peter Dench/Getty Images

The comments were published on the same day new rules came into force across the UK limiting people to gatherings of just six. The rule apply both indoors and outdoors, meaning pubs will have to comply.

Emma McClarkin, the chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, last week said the new rules would “have an immediate cooling effect on public confidence to go out and visit our pubs.” She called for more government support for the sector.

READ MORE: JD Wetherspoon boss tells staff to consider work at Tesco

The Sunday Telegraph reported over the weekend that the UK government will consider a nation wide curfew if the latest restrictions fail to stop the rise in COVID-19 cases. Pubs and restaurants could be ordered to close by 10pm local time, the report claimed.

“If pubs are closed, or restricted so much that they become unprofitable, a great deal of the strenuous effort of the hospitality industry's 3.2 million employees, currently engaged on upholding hygiene and social distancing standards, will be lost — leaving the public to socialise at home or elsewhere, in unsupervised circumstances,” Martin said.

Watch: Yahoo UK’s Finance Reporter, Edmund Heaphy, explains what a recession is

McClarkin said: “Without this support from Government, and a clear message that pubs remain open for business and that the public should support them, our sector is in for a very rough end to an already devastating year.”

Shares in Wetherspoon fell over 3% on Monday.

JD Wetherspoon shares. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK
JD Wetherspoon shares. Photo: Yahoo Finance UK