Manchester mayor Andy Burnham’s singling out of the pub trade is “completely wrong, according to J. W. Lees managing director William Lees-Jones.

Speaking on MCA’s The Conversation, Lees-Jones described Burnham’s comments, that pubs are one of the main spaces where virus spreads, as “really unhelpful”.

He argued the pub trade had shown itself to be a responsible and safe environment for people to meet in coming out of lockdown.

In the pub operators’ home city of Greater Manchester, Lees-Jones added guests had been abiding by local lockdown rules, which restrict different households from meeting up, but criticized confusion over the delivery of this message.

Lees-Jones told The Conversation: “I think he’s completely wrong on this. There’s no evidence the virus is being spread in pubs.

“I’m not a scientist, but I would suggest the mental illness of people being locked up in their own houses, or drinking on the street out of a plastic container, is far worse than what we’ve learned over the last few weeks, which is how we can live with covid in a pub environment.”

He said the pub trade was one of the few sectors supporting track and trace, and “doing it really well.”

Meanwhile he said the Eat Out to Help Out scheme had been a great success in J. W. Lees pubs, with like for like sales up 44% on the opening Monday.

He credited a “killer deal” on steak and chips, which accounted for one in nine orders, for the success.

He said: “People were coming as we were offering really good value. But more importantly I think was the Chancellor saying it was OK to go to pubs. The validation that they were safe, and the government encouraging people to go them, meant we saw a number of our older guests return for the very first time.

“In my mind it couldn’t have gone better.”

Lees-Jones added that demographically, his pubs have become “a lot younger”, with older consumers, usually a core demographic in community pubs, still wary to come out.