THE Eat Out to Help Out scheme caused a "significant" rise in Covid cases which "certainly accelerated the second wave", according to a new study.

A study by the University of Warwick found a sharp increase in Covid infection clusters emerged a week after the scheme began. 

Eat Out To Help Out was designed to boost struggling businesses after nation lockdown. It subsidised the cost of meals and non-alcoholic drinks by up to 50 per cent across tens of thousands of restaurants through August.

Despite restaurants introducing social distancing, one way systems and hand sanitiser stations, the research suggests between 8 per cent and 17 per cent of newly detected infection clusters could be linked to the scheme.

Thiemo Fetzer, associate professor in economics at the university, said areas with notable uptake of Eat Out To Help Out saw Covid infections surge one week after the scheme started and declined again a week after it ended.

Sharing the research on Twitter, Mr Fetzer said: "Just let that sink in. The govt used around GBP 500 in taxpayers money temporarily boosting restaurant revenues, but also causing notable new #COVID19 infections. This certainly accelerated the 2nd pandemic wave we currently are in...

"Which has already lead to consumers staying home not eating out for fear of catching #COVID19 (the pandemic is the ultimate cause of economic harm). This, to put it mildly, was a poor use of taxpayer money especially in light of the free school meal discussion."

The news comes as nearly a fifth of England will soon be under the toughest Covid restrictions - Tier 3 - as the number of patients in hospital continues to rise.

An announcement is expected today on placing the Tees Valley into the top tier of coronavirus restrictions after a Government minister warned North-East leaders “action needs to be taken urgently”.