Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has reportedly admitted there is little evidence that the 10pm curfew works and said he would prefer a mandatory pub closing time of 6pm.
The Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England made the comments at a fractious private briefing for Greater Manchester MPs on Thursday, as ministers tried to persuade the region’s leadership to accept Tier-3 restrictions.
According to one MP who was present, upon being asked whether the 10pm rule made a difference to transmission rates, Professor Van-Tam responded: “Not really. I’d prefer 6pm, or even earlier.”
Another participant in the virtual meeting asked him if he could guarantee that shutting drinking establishments altogether – a key plank of Tier 3 – would bring the virus under control, to which he said he could not.
The comments follow weeks of controversy surrounding the 10pm rule, with critics accusing the government of imposing “arbitrary” rules that harm the economy, and are not justified by the scientific evidence.
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer challenged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide the technical reasoning behind the 10pm rule at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Shortly after the briefing to Greater Manchester MPs, Health Secretary Matt Hancock stood up in the House of Commons to announce that London, Essex, Elmbridge, Barrow-in-Furness, York, North East Derbyshire, Erewash and Chesterfield will move into the second tier of measures from Saturday.
However, he did not place Greater Manchester in Tier 3, as many had expected.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham had reportedly told the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Sir Edward Lister at an earlier meeting that No 10 had failed to provide any evidence that closures would work.
Mr Burnham subsequently accused the Government of treating the North with “contempt”, despite pleas by Mr Johnson to accept Tier-3 restrictions for the region voluntarily.
Andy Burnham also claimed Professor Van-Tam had told regional leaders only a national lockdown was sure to have an effect on the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
One of the principal objections to the 10pm curfew is rather than cutting down on mingling, it actually forces greater numbers of people into close contact when pubs and other establishments all close at the same time.
On Saturday evening police were forced to issue a dispersal notice after one town centre saw outbreaks of disorder around pub closing time.
Police said up to 100 people were involved in incidents in Chippenham, Wiltshire, shortly before the 10pm Covid-19 licensed premises curfew on Saturday.
Officers attended after receiving several reports of antisocial behaviour in the town centre and issued a Section 35 dispersal order – meaning people were required to leave the area for up to 48 hours.
Earlier this month the Government was accused of justifying pub closures with "cobbled together" statistics, including a three month-old survey carried out in the US.
This followed a scientific briefing for MPs, chaired by the health minister Edward Argar and attended by Chief Medical Officer for England and Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, Chris Whitty, in which it was claimed that 29.8 per cent of "exposures" to coronavirus occurred in pubs and restaurants, with just 2.6 per cent of infections occuring in people's homes.
However, NHS Test and Trace figures show 75.3 per cent of transmissions happened in homes, with only 5.5 per cent in pubs, restaurants and churches.
Professor Van Tam’s comments were reported in the Mail on Sunday and the Observer.