Ministers accused of using 'cobbled together' statistics to justify hospitality closures

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Ministers accused of using 'cobbled together' statistics to justify hospitality closures

Related tags Coronavirus lockdown Government

MPs claim to have been shown 'meaningless' figures during a presentation by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty to help 'retrospectively' prove need for closures of hospitality venues in the north.

Yesterday (8 October), the CMO briefed 149 MPs with unpublished data, seeking to make the case that pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes are a key source of virus transmission.

However, he has since been accused of using misleading data to justify the expected shutdown of the North of England​, with MPs describing the report as a 'dodgy dossier'.

Derived from a very small sample size, the subset data relied on contact tracing figures referring to just 98 pubs and 67 cafes and restaurants.

The data reputedly showed that 29.8% of exposures to Coronavirus occurred in pubs and restaurants; while just 2.6% of infections were happening in people's homes.

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

The briefing also made reference to a US Centres for Disease Control report on Covid transmissions in restaurants, which was based on just 154 Coronavirus patients.

According to that study, those testing positive for Coronavirus were 'approximately' twice as likely to have dined at a restaurant in the fortnight before symptoms emerged.

One Tory MP 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.

"No-one could make any sense of how these figures were put together. If they are so convinced they are right, they should publish them so everyone can see them."

This morning (9 October), however, Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the size of the sample used by the CMO as being 'representative'.

"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 told LBC​ presenter Nick Ferrari.

"It's actually a pretty robust sampling."

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