Chancellor Rishi Sunak has defended his Eat Out to Help Out scheme, arguing people should be “cautious about jumping to simplistic conclusions” about causes of transmission.

Speaking on Sky News, Sunak said that the science has shown the uptick in infection rates is a feature of the virus itself and the winter season, rather than being a direct outcome of “anything specific.”

With the rates curve “in sync” with countries across the world, he said the increase couldn’t be attributed to the increase in hospitality visitations throughout August, with areas like the South West – which saw some of the highest Eat Out to Help Out uptake – now seeing some of the lowest infection rates in the whole of the UK.

“There’s a big difference between correlation and causation,” he said. “So, I’d be cautious about jumping to simplistic conclusions.

“It’s incredibly difficult at granular levels to pinpoint the cause of transmission, so we should have some humility about our ability to do that.”

In fact, using the Midlands as a key example, Sunak pointed out that household mixing inside homes is a “key source of transmission.

“Depending on where you are in the country, the exact source of virus spread will vary and that’s why our response will be targeted and nuanced to the situation we confront,” he said.

Discussing his primary concerns for the short and long term economy, he said his “overwhelming focus” at the moment was on trying to protect and support jobs, whether that be directly through government support packages or by means of encouraging economic activity.

“Many people are losing their jobs so my focus in the short term is on making sure we support as much employment as possible,” he said. “Over time we will need to have sustainable public finances, but in the short term the best way to sustain long term public finances is to support as much employment as possible.

“It’s important that we maintain some degree of confidence and optimism about our future, and that has an impact on our economic performance. This is a consumer driven economy, consumption drives a large part of economic activity in this country, so if people don’t have confidence to do those things that will have a direct impact on people losing their jobs.

“It’s because of that that I’m keen to ensure as much economic activity as possible.”