IN The National on January 4, columnist Stephen Paton criticised Wetherspoon for saying that “staff could take jobs with supermarkets” in the immediate aftermath of the first UK lockdown in March last year (“When this is over, there are things we shouldn’t forget”).

However, this response was an economic necessity, since the closure of pubs, clubs and restaurants created a huge transfer of trade to supermarkets, with Tesco alone requiring 45,000 extra workers.

Indeed, Wetherspoon received calls from Tesco and Morrisons, among other companies, in March 2020, requesting urgent assistance in this area. Hospitality workers temporarily switching jobs also benefited from a perfectly legal second income, which was in addition to their furlough payments.

Paton says that Wetherspoon puts “profit before people”, but £11 million was invested in safety measures for staff and customers, before pubs re-opened last summer. The company also implemented its own “track and trace” system, which has recorded more than 50 million customer visits so far, without a single reported Covid outbreak.

Another accusation is that Wetherspoon is displaying posters with “conspiratorial headlines”.

READ MORE: Stephen Paton: We must remember how firms like Wetherspoons acted through Covid

The posters included the headline to an article by The Guardian’s economic editor, Larry Elliott, which said that “Britain’s Covid-19 strategy simply adds up to many more jobless people” and one from The Telegraph, in which retired Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption says “ministers stoked fear to justify lockdowns”.

Not everyone will agree with these views, but they nonetheless represent legitimate arguments.

For example, Dr David Nabarro of the World Health Organisation has recently implored governments not to rely on lockdowns as their primary reaction to Covid, in view of the inevitable dire consequences for the least well off.

In this context, 800,000 jobs have already been lost in the UK, many in the hospitality industry, and there has been a severe reduction in access to non-Covid health services for most people. Finally, Paton asserts that in Sweden, which has chosen not to lock down, “the situation has deteriorated”.

In fact, Sweden’s fatality rate per capita for Covid since the start of the pandemic is 17% lower than the UK’s, the respected Worldometer website indicates. For the most recent two-month period, to the end of December, Worldometer reported that Sweden had 2913 fatalities and the UK 26,957. Adjusting for population, Sweden had 26% less fatalities per capita.

Therefore, the reality is that contrary to received opinion, Sweden’s performance relative to the UK has recently improved.

Paton correctly says that Sweden’s outcome has been worse than other Nordic countries, but even that state of affairs is subject to review – pro-lockdown Denmark appears to have experienced a rapid deterioration in recent weeks.

Only history and hindsight will clarify the optimum response to Covid-19. However, demonising the contribution of companies such as Wetherspoon to the debate may allow the UK Government’s flawed response to go unchallenged.