Did Eat Out to Help Out cause a second wave?

I’ve written a piece for UnHerd, looking at whether the UK Government’s decision to subsidise restaurant meals contributed to the second wave of coronavirus infections. Here’s the nub:

What we make of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme is, to some extent, dependent on how much of the government’s Covid budget it used up. It could be argued that whatever the epidemiological price, it could have been lower — for example, the scheme could simply have covered takeaway meals, which are almost certainly less risky. And whatever the merits of Eat Out to Help Out in isolation, its coherence with the rest of the Government’s strategy around coronavirus can be questioned. If the scheme supported businesses with only a modest contribution to infections, we can add it to the Government’s economic successes; if it helped bring about a second wave, it looks like another failing.

Critics are understandably tempted to see Eat Out to Help Out as reflecting an irresponsible and cavalier attitude to risk. I think the failure is more subtle: our fundamental uncertainty over the consequences of the scheme reflect the flaws in our data gathering and monitoring systems. These failures are no less concerning. If we cannot follow the virus as it spreads, we cannot retrospectively evaluate — let alone predict — the impact of different policies. That bodes ill for our ability to navigate the trade-offs ahead.

You can read the full piece here.

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