The explicit government advice, received from public health experts, is to stay away from pubs, cafes and restaurants to limit the spread of the disease.
Yet the 64-year-old chairman of the pub chain claimed it was “over the top” to shut them, despite admitting he had no knowledge of the science.
“Supermarkets are very, very crowded. Pubs are much less crowded,” he told Sky News.
“There’s hardly been any transmission of the virus within pubs, and I think it’s over the top to shut them. That’s a commercial view, but also a common sense view.”
Mr Martin also claimed that he would take the opportunity to catch the coronavirus under the right conditions – again in defiance of public health messages.
“If someone offered me the opportunity now to have it under supervised conditions, I think I’d probably take it because your chances are very, very good,” he told reporters on a call on Friday.
People with underlying conditions and the elderly have been warned by the government to stay inside as much as possible as they are at the biggest risk of dying.
Piers Morgan was among the many people criticising Mr Martin online.
“This is insane stupidity from a reckless selfish millionaire putting money before health,” tweeted the Good Morning Britain host. “Don’t go to Wetherspoons.”
Downing Street declined to comment directly on Mr Martin’s remarks, but a spokesman said: “We have been clear about the importance of social distancing. We have been clear about our guidance around social gatherings.”
After being repeatedly pressed over Mr Johnson’s opinion of the Wetherspoons boss’s comments, the spokesman was asked whether he was reluctant to voice criticism of someone who has been a political supporter of the prime minister.
He replied: “We have based all our decisions on the best scientific evidence and will continue to do so.”
Mr Martin said that “reasonable social distancing” would happen automatically in Wetherspoons as the number of punters drop.
The pub chain boss also said that he could introduce rules that prevent people from standing at the bar, and getting staff to clean down the surfaces twice an hour.
Mr Martin also said that one of his pubs had introduced a regulars-only policy. This would not be possible to roll-out to all Wetherspoons outlets, but it is “one of a variety of moves” available to management.
“Closure is much more draconian, and we don’t think that it brings health benefits, and it certainly doesn’t bring economic benefits,” he added.
The government advice, received from health experts, is that staying away from pubs does bring huge public health benefits.
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