Wetherspoon plans to keep pubs open “even under extreme duress,” as chairman Tim Martin warned that should they shut, the levels of Government support for employees will be inconsequential to job losses.

Speaking following its H1 financial report this morning – which reported like for like sales losses of -4.5% for the week to 15 March – Martin said that amid closures caused by COVID-19 “saying jobs are at risk in the hospitality industry is the same as saying do bears dance in the woods.”

The company currently has 16,000 self-isolating staff on sick pay, but Martin said it hasn’t got a policy for managing its 43,000 UK staff during the yet “because we haven’t had time to discuss what we’re going to do.”

“It’s easy to look at big companies in the sector and ask what they can do for their employees, but the reality is what can the Government do for the sector,” he said.

Ahead of the chancellor’s announcements at 5pm today – where it is thought that an employee rescue package will be revealed – Martin said that “if the Government says that pubs and restaurants must shut, then it won’t matter about the levels of support.”

“There will be substantial job losses, if not immediately, should they subsidise them for a while, then eventually.”

“Pubs may well stay open,” he added, “which will be proportionate and sensible. If we can remain open it’ll obviously be a tremendous help.”

Given the market uncertainty due to COVID-19, Wetherspoon has said it will delay most capital projects, cancel the interim dividend, and reduce expenditure where possible.