Three pubs in England have been forced to close after customers tested positive for coronavirus following the reopening of bars, restaurants and other parts of the country’s hospitality sector at the weekend.
The move was hailed by Matt Hancock, the health secretary, who said it showed the NHS test and trace system was “working precisely as intended”, amid concerns that the government’s decision to ease lockdown restrictions could lead to a jump in new infections.
“In reopening hospitality we’ve also introduced contact tracing for customers; this system is working”, Mr Hancock told MPs on Tuesday. “I want to thank all those who are making the system work and pay tribute in particular to three pubs that have taken specific action.”
He confirmed the three pubs that had closed were The Lighthouse in Burnham-On-Sea, Somerset, The Fox and Hounds in Batley, Yorkshire, and The Village Home in Gosport, Hampshire.
The businesses were now testing staff and seeking to trace customers who had visited the pubs over the weekend to notify them. In a message posted on Facebook on Tuesday morning, The Lighthouse said all the test results for its staff had come back negative but that the pub would remain closed until it had received further guidance.
Mr Hancock also told MPs on Tuesday that the infection rate in Leicester — the first English city to implement a local lockdown last week after a spike in virus cases — has reduced from 135 to 117 cases per 100,000 people.
Boris Johnson has warned England faces the prospect of more local lockdowns to tackle coronavirus and urged the public to act with restraint as pubs and restaurants reopen.
Meanwhile the prime minister was facing criticism on Tuesday after suggesting the high number of deaths in care homes was because “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures”.
The care home sector has described the comments as “cowardly” and pointed to government guidance which insisted hospitals could transfer hospital patients to care homes without testing for the virus.
In February, Public Health England told care homes that it was “very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home will become infected” with Covid-19 and that homes did not need to do anything differently in any care setting at that time.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, urged Mr Hancock to apologise for Mr Johnson’s “crass remarks”.
Declining to apologise, Mr Hancock responded: “The PM was explaining that because asymptomatic transmission was not known about, the correct procedures were therefore not known”.
Responding to Mr Johnson’s comments, the chief executive of Community Integrated Care told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme they were both “clumsy and cowardly”.
Mark Adams added: “If this is genuinely his view, I think we’re almost entering a Kafka-esque alternative reality where the government set the rules, we follow them, they don’t like the results and they then deny setting the rules and blame the people that were trying to do their best. It is hugely frustrating.”
Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday that Mr Johnson would not apologise for his remarks. “Throughout the pandemic, care homes have done a brilliant job under very difficult circumstances,” a spokesman said.
“What the prime minister was pointing out was that nobody knew what the correct procedures to put in place were at the time, because the extent of asymptomatic transmission was not known. We are learning about this virus all the time.”