Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin has called on a top scientist to share his evidence linking an Aberdeen coronavirus outbreak to customers in pubs.
The outspoken pub chain chairman took aim at Aberdeen University’s bacteriology professor Hugh Pennington, who said a recent outbreak in the Scottish city was tied to transmission among drinkers.
Mr Martin said: “Given the importance of the pub industry to its staff, customers and as a taxpayer to the Exchequer, it would be very useful if Professor Pennington could publish the basis of his assumptions, so that they could be thoroughly analysed and peer-reviewed."
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live last week, Professor Pennington said the the virus was more likely to be transmitted in an indoor environment such as a pub. He added: “Maybe it's hot and a bit steamy - helps the virus to get about".
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon imposed a new lockdown on Aberdeen last week, forcing the closure of pubs and restaurants and placing restrictions on travel and interactions between households. Cases have since fallen but Ms Sturgeon said on Wednesday that it is still too early to ease restrictions.
Mr Martin agreed that the crowded atmosphere and “uninhibited” behaviour associated with pubs could plausibly lead to transmission of the virus.
But he argued that Professor Pennington remarks should be scrutinised due to the continued uncertainty over Covid.
Mr Martin, whose firm runs 870 watering holes across the UK, said that only five of Wetherspoon's 43,000 staff had tested positive for Covid before the lockdown was imposed. Since reopening, he said, there had been a "handful" of positive tests but no evidence of transmission between either staff or customers.
He added: “It seems clear that there have been high levels of transmission in hospitals, care homes, abattoirs and certain production facilities.
“Until now, the evidence surrounding pubs in the UK has really been based on supposition. The situation presents an excellent opportunity for a proper scientific investigation into an extremely important industry.”
Professor Pennington said: "In my view intensively investigated Covid-19 outbreaks ... provide very strong evidence that being in a pub indoors and heavy breathing are risk factors that promote Covid-19 spread.
"It won't do to say that because people have attended pubs without being infected proves that they are safe; it all depends on whether someone who was infectious was there at the same time. Preliminary investigations of the current big Aberdeen outbreak show a clear link with transmission in pubs."