JD Wetherspoon has said like for like sales are down 16.9% for the 44 days to 16 August 2020 in a trading update.

It said it had now reopened 844 of its 873 pubs, with some airport and station sites remaining shuttered. It has opened two new sites since July.

The update said the businesses remains in a “sound financial position” with net debt at the end of the last financial year around £825m. It also agreed a £48.3m loan under the CLBILS scheme.

Chairman Tim Martin also questioned the validity of lockdowns and took aim at the suggestion pubs were hives of infections when it comes to the coronavirus.

“There is a debate in the scientific community, and among observers and commentators, as to whether lockdowns are beneficial in battling Covid-19,” he said.

“Many academics, including Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt of Stanford University and Swedish government adviser Johan Giesecke, believe that they are not - and that social distancing, combined with rigorous handwashing are the practises for which there is genuine scientific evidence.

“The debate is riven with rancour and political factionalism, but I believe, on the balance of the arguments, that avoiding full lockdowns and adopting the Swedish approach, is the better solution. I have written an article on this subject, which has appeared in the pub trade press.

“Wetherspoon had 5 positive tests for Covid-19 among its 43,000 staff before lockdown and has had 24 positive tests since pubs reopened on 4 July - since reopening, the amount of testing has substantially increased.

“Other environments seem to have higher levels of infection. For example, one sandwich-making facility in Northampton had 287 positive tests among its workforce, and one farm in Hereford had 77 cases.

“Some experts, such as Professor Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University, believe that pubs are major centres of infection, but they have provided no evidence - in fact, our experience suggests otherwise.

“If Professor Pennington has evidence he should publish it, so that it can be peer-reviewed, as is standard practise among scientists.

“Risk cannot be eliminated completely in pubs, but sensible social distancing and hygiene policies, combined with continued assistance and cooperation from the authorities, should minimise it”.

“The company expects to make a loss for the year ending 26 July 2020, both before and after exceptional items. Some of these exceptional items will be related to the Covid pandemic.”