Wetherspoons said they will remove posters which claim to deny the severity of the coronavirus pandemic after the posters were criticised by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The pub chain store had instructed staff to put up pages from its own ‘Wetherspoon News’ paper which includes its own take on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as including cuttings from newspapers, in the windows and doors of its now-closed pubs across Bristol and the rest of the country.
The posters and articles appear to date from the second lockdown back in November, and include one opinion piece from the Daily Mail headlined: “What they don’t tell you about Covid – fewer beds taken up than last year, deaths a fraction of the grim forecasts”.
When asked about the posters, the Prime Minister said it was ‘outrageous’ that people were pretending hospitals ‘aren’t under massive strain’.
“I think it’s very, very clear people must stay at home – that’s the way to stop the spread of the disease,” Mr Johnson told Bristol Live.
“As Chris Witty said this morning, contact with one person means you’re setting up a potential chain of transmission, that’s why the rules are so clear.
“When you talk about people who deny the existence of covid and people who stand outside of hospitals saying covid is a hoax or pretend hospitals aren’t under massive strain, it’s outrageous and anybody who goes around hospitals as I do and talks to health care workers knows the pressures they are under.
“The reality is that unless we work together now, and stay at home, protect the NHS, I’m afraid our hospitals will be overwhelmed and that’s what we’ve been fighting throughout this pandemic, and we’ve got to keep it up,” he added.
Wetherspoons has been a controversial business during the pandemic. In the early days, its founder and owner Tim Martin complained about restrictions, pubs closing and mask wearing, to add to his vehement support for Brexit.
In the summer, the chain vocally endorsed the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, and displayed posters proclaiming chancellor Rishi Sunak as a ‘superhero’ for ‘saving the pub industry’.
Soon after the end of the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, researchers from Warwick University said it may well have led to a rise in the number of covid cases, which had been in decline until it began, with one in six new cases being estimated to be attributable to the scheme, doctors talking to the BBC said they blamed the scheme for the rise in covid cases and the Prime Minister himself admitted it it ‘may have helped spread the virus’.
This week, Wetherspoons admitted the posters and articles that downplayed the severity of the pandemic and the impact on the NHS were now ‘out of date’.
Hospital intensive care units in London and the south east are so full with patients suffering from coronavirus Covid-19 that scores have been transported to other hospitals around the country.
The latest figures from Bristol’s two hospitals show that, as of Tuesday January 5, there were 194 covid patients in the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Weston General, and 81 at Southmead Hospital – the total of 275 on that date is almost double the highest levels of covid patients in the city’s hospitals in the first wave of the pandemic in the spring.
Back at the start of the pandemic, the Government’s health chief Prof Chris Witty said the UK would ‘be doing well’ if it recorded 20,000 people dying from coronavirus.
The Office for National Statistics has recorded excess deaths of more than 90,000 in 2020 – that’s the number of deaths higher than the average for the previous five years, and a total of 79,810 involved covid-19.
“The heading for the posters is ‘Read all about it’, which refers to the online edition of Wetherspoon News,” said a spokesperson for Wetherspoons.
“The online edition has articles by most leading newspapers including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, New Statesman, Daily Telegraph and The Independent.
“Having said that the posters have been up for six weeks and it is fair to say that a few of the comments are out of date.
“We intend to take the posters down from all Wetherspoon pubs in the next few days.
“It is vital in a democracy to have an informed debate.
“As a result there may be an opportunity to replace the posters with more up to date articles in due course,” he added.