The Treasury has deleted a tweet encouraging the public to head for a drink when pubs reopen in England on Saturday, following criticism that it was an irresponsible message to send during the coronavirus health crisis.
In a tweet on Wednesday, the Treasury wrote: “Grab a drink and raise a glass, pubs are reopening their doors from 4 July.”
The post, which was accompanied by a graphic which read ”Pubs are back”, was quickly taken down after it prompted a backlash on social media, with critics suggesting that its celebratory tone ignored the reality of the epidemic which has killed almost 44,000 in the UK so far.
It came as Leicester became the first place in the UK to go into local lockdown after it experienced a spike in its number of Covid-19 cases.
Geraint Davies, Labour MP for Swansea West, was among those who condemned the Treasury’s decision to publish the post.
“This is wholly irresponsible publicity by the Conservative Government which will fuel a resurgence of coronavirus infection & death in England,” Mr Davies said in a tweet.
Mr Davies told The Independent that the government was "intentionally pushing people into crowded pubs on a Saturday night, without suggesting masks and straws for instance".
"They [the government] anticipate a spike in infection and then intend to blame ‘irresponsible individuals’, as they did in Bournemouth when, on a hot day, tens of thousands took advantage of the government invitation to travel any distance. With wilful negligence, the death rate dial is being turned up in England," he added.
A Treasury source admitted the department had made a mistake with its message on the reopening of pubs, telling The Independent: “We got it wrong on this and the tweet was quickly removed.”
The prime minister has also been criticised by some people for his choice of messaging during the health emergency.
Announcing the relaxation of certain restrictions on 23 June, Boris Johnson told the public not to “overdo it”.
However, he also said: “I think people need to go out, I think people need to enjoy themselves and rediscover things that they have been able to do for a long time. I want to see bustle. I want to see activity.”
With rain scheduled for Saturday, there are concerns that pubs could fail to implement social distancing measures on their first day back to business, as customers leave outdoor spaces such as beer gardens to shelter from the rain.
In response, a spokesman from JD Wetherspoon, which plans to reopen all 750 of its pubs on 4 July, said: “The weather is out of our control, but our pubs tend to be three times larger than others so we are not worried about people being inside our venues.
“We can’t predict what the weather will be like in England, but we have faith that our customers and staff will be as safe as possible,” he added.
Additional reporting from PA