The owner of pub giant JD Wetherspoon says 66 of the company’s employees have tested positive for coronavirus since reopening from lockdown.
Tim Martin, founder and chairman of the group, said most of the reported cases have been mild or asymptomatic and 28 of the 66 employees have already returned to work, after self-isolating in accordance with medical guidelines.
Wetherspoons employs 41,564 people in its pubs across the UK.
Mr Martin told investors on Monday he believes the safety of pubs during the pandemic has been “widely misunderstood”, adding that trading was “very quiet” over the weekend, before new restrictions on larger social gatherings came into effect.
The new rule means people could face fines of up to £3200 if they are involved in social gatherings of more than six people.
Mr Martin said: “Trade was very quiet over the weekend, as the public weighed up the evidence about the alleged dangers of going out – Wetherspoon sales were 22.5% below the equivalent Saturday last year.”
Wetherspoons said about 32 million people have visited its pubs since they reopened their doors at the start of July.
Last month, the group said like-for-like bar and food sales were down 16.9% for the 44 days to August 16, compared with the same period last year.
Mr Martin said the sales slump means it expects to post a loss for the year to July 26.
He came under fire earlier this year for failing to assure his staff their wages would be paid while they were unable to go into work.
In a video in March, he told tens of thousands of employees he would pay them up until the pubs last opened, but said there would be no further payments until the government fulfilled its promise to cover 80% of the wages of workers affected.