A Business minister has defended the Government’s claim that 30 per cent of all coronavirus transmissions are occurring in pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants after furious MPs accused ministers of ‘cobbling together’ numbers to ‘justify’ their point of view based on flimsy data from fewer than 100 pubs.

Nadhim Zahawi MP argued the sample was ‘quite representative’ on LBC breakfast this morning, stating that when he did business surveys they would use a similar number of venues.

‘I used to work in the serving industry and I can tell you when you do business surveys, 98 businesses, or 100 businesses, is actually quite a representative sample,’ he said. ‘If you’re doing public opinions, 1,000 interviews is a representative sample. It’s actually a pretty robust sampling.’

His claim comes as enraged MPs slam the Government for presenting the ‘early analysis’ figures to them, and criticise officials decision to rely on a three-month-old American study from which they cherry-picked the figures to bolster their claims.

Leaked slides from a press briefing led by Professor Chris Whitty revealed yesterday that food outlets and bars may make up 41 per cent of all transmission among the under 30s. 

But this is in stark contrast with data published by Public Health England, which suggests only four per cent of Covid-19 outbreaks can be traced back to the venues.

And NHS Test and Trace figures show a huge 75.3 per cent of transmissions take place home, with only 5.5 per cent happening in pubs, restaurants and churches. 

After ministers confirmed they will not shut schools, experts have argued they have few options left in terms of where to close to reduce social interaction, which is where the virus spreads – meaning the axe may fall on the hospitality sector.

Many scientists have, however, argued against tightening the measures – and urged ministers to instead try to learn how to live with the virus. 

It came as No10 faced a concerted backlash from local leaders and MPs over plans to subject millions of people living in the North to even tougher restrictions from next week. 

Sir Keir Starmer accused Boris Johnson of causing ‘confusion, chaos and unfairness’ by revealing the exact measures will be announced next week, while they are still being discussed.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty briefed 149 MPs from the North and the Midlands yesterday to tell them that a ‘significant proportion’ of exposure to coronavirus was happening in the hospitality sector.  

Revellers in Edinburgh enjoyed their final night on the town as pubs and restaurants shut from 6pm on Friday for two weeks, with parts of England potentially following suit

Revellers in Edinburgh enjoyed their final night on the town as pubs and restaurants shut from 6pm on Friday for two weeks, with parts of England potentially following suit

In Glasgow, drinkers filled the town despite Government fears that the hospitality industry is fuelling the rise in infections, claims which have been disputed

In Glasgow, drinkers filled the town despite Government fears that the hospitality industry is fuelling the rise in infections, claims which have been disputed

Government data had claimed 32 per cent of transmission may be occurring in pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants, but it has emerged that data was taken from a sample of less than 170 businesses

Government data had claimed 32 per cent of transmission may be occurring in pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants, but it has emerged that data was taken from a sample of less than 170 businesses 

These graphs were also shown at the briefing. The suggest infections across all age groups are higher in the North of England than the rest of the country

These graphs were also shown at the briefing. The suggest infections across all age groups are higher in the North of England than the rest of the country

The graphs also warned that more people could be in intensive care in the North within three weeks than were at the start of the pandemic

The graphs also warned that more people could be in intensive care in the North within three weeks than were at the start of the pandemic

PHE data released today showed infected people were most often coming into contact with family they live with, followed by friends coming to visit them and then people in leisure settings — which include pubs and restaurants

PHE data released today showed infected people were most often coming into contact with family they live with, followed by friends coming to visit them and then people in leisure settings — which include pubs and restaurants

The document that spilled the beans 

The controversial data quoted by Professor Whitty is based on an ‘enhanced contact tracing’ exercise, the Department of Health said. 

It asks people who they met – and where they met them. But it is based on a very small sample. 

If two infected people both tell tracers that they have been to a venue in the past week, it is seen as an indication, but not proof, that the virus may have been transmitted between them. 

But they don’t even have had to be there at the same time. 

The data shows there were 98 occasions where two or more people told contact tracers they had been to the same pub. 

Another 67 cases referred to people having been to the same cafe or restaurant. 

One Tory MP from a Red Wall seat told The Telegraph: ‘It was very clear to everyone on the call that they had cobbled together this data as a retrospective attempt to justify closing pubs. 

‘Given what we know from the official NHS figures, why are they quoting data from a tiny survey carried out in America? It’s just meaningless.’

A Labour MP in a northern seat said: ‘We have all been calling on the Government to give us the evidence behind curfews and pub closures, and this is the best they can come up with. It’s quite astonishing, and it’s clearly an attempt to soften us up for bad news that’s coming next week.’

Last night the British Beer and Pub Association warned the Government that the data was not good enough to justify the closure of pubs. 

One expert suggested 7,000 venues across the North would be forced to close. But Downing Street denied that any decisions had yet been taken on lockdown measures. 

One Tory MP who attended the briefing said: ‘It is clear that the data to justify further action on hospitality is incredibly thin. It is so weak they can’t even publish it.’ 

Professor Whitty also appeared to suggest that the national 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants introduced last month was based on nothing more than the fact that other countries had imposed it. 

Last night northern politicians lined up to condemn the Prime Minister for the ‘reckless’ plan to close all pubs and restaurants in the worst-hit areas. 

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor for Greater Manchester, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘I will not any more put up with a situation where they impose things on the North of England that will cause real damage to people’s lives.’

And on Question Time last night he slammed the Government for failing to consult regiional leaders on changes to restrictions.

He added: ‘I will use whatever means I can to challenge it to get support for people because otherwise they are going to suffer real hardship this winter, we are going to see businesses failing.’

Chris Whitty's claim that a ‘significant proportion’ of exposure to coronavirus was happening in the hospitality sector has come under fire. With one Conservative MP describing the Government's data as 'incredibly thin'

Chris Whitty’s claim that a ‘significant proportion’ of exposure to coronavirus was happening in the hospitality sector has come under fire. With one Conservative MP describing the Government’s data as ‘incredibly thin’ 

And Emma McClarkin, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: ‘We are still yet to see the hard evidence in England that blanket measures to lock down pubs, with their strict adherence to government guidelines, will significantly stop the spread of the virus.’ 

But Ben Bradley, Tory MP for Mansfield, who took part in the call, said: ‘We talked about the North West and North East in particular, where we were talking about – in three weeks’ time – having hospitalisation levels higher than in the original peak.’

Meanwhile Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships Gillian Keegan said Britain was in an ‘unbelievably serious situation’.

She said the government had to act to stem the spike in coronavirus cases, saying to BBC: ‘This is serious – it is getting out of control, and we have to do something to bring it back under control.’

But she added: ‘We definitely need to work locally and we definitely need to make sure that the communications are much clearer.’

Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool City Region, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘Quite simply the North should not be a petri dish for experimentation by central government.’ 

Sir Keir Starmer also wrote in The Telegraph, saying how people are facing a ‘weekend of uncertainty’ because of the delay in announcing the new three-tier system.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick yesterday came close to confirming that action is looming. 

‘It is correct to say the number of cases in the North West and the North East and a number of cities, particularly in the Midlands like Nottingham, are rising fast and that is a serious situation,’ he said. 

‘We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly.’ 

He added it was ‘commonsensical’ that the longer people spent in pubs together, the higher the risk of infection was, as he backed the 10pm curfew.

It also emerged last night that the Public Health England data was based on a very small sample size. 

It derived from contact tracing data referring to just 98 pubs and 67 cafes and restaurants.  

A PHE spokesman said each reported case referred to two separate Covid-positive patients who had been in the same venue within the past week.

But the data is not able to assert if they caught the virus in the same place. 

A Department of Health spokesman said ‘enhanced’ contract tracing suggested the place of infection was in hospitality venues.   

Included in the dossier given by Chris Whitty was a Cabinet Office document marked ‘official sensitive’ which referenced a report from July from the US Centres for Disease Control.

The study found people that of the 154 people who had tested positive, they were around twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant in the previous two weeks before they experienced symptoms.   

Last night a Government spokesman admitted that the ‘early analysis’ did not constitute proof of transmission. 

‘We are seeing coronavirus cases rise across the country, with particularly fast growth in the North East and North West,’ he said. 

‘We constantly monitor the data and are considering a range of options to suppress the virus, protect communities and save lives.’ 



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