Pub chain JD Wetherspoon has reported more than 66 outbreaks of coronavirus at 50 of its outlets.
Boss Tim Martin said that 66 employees have tested positive for Covid-19, but hit back at claims that pubs are no longer safe to visit.
The pub chain, which includes a string of boozers in Birmingham and the Black Country, has not revealed the venues that are affected.
The news comes as the ‘rule of six’ comes into force in England on Monday, with public gatherings now limited to just six people – both indoors and outdoors, reports MirrorOnline.
The pub group, which employs more than 41,564 people, said the vast majority of its 861 pubs had recorded no positive tests for the virus.
Several experts have already claimed that pubs are prime locations to harbour the spread of the virus amid claims a second wave of infections is imminent.
However, Wetherspoon’s boss Tim Martin dismissed claims that pubs are “dangerous”. He said: “The situation with regard to pubs has been widely misunderstood. It is clearly not the case that pubs are “dangerous places to be”.
The pub chief said JD Wetherspoon had invested around £15million on comprehensive social distancing and hygiene measures, including reducing capacity, spacing out tables, the installation of screens between tables and around tills, and an average of 10 hand sanitisers per pub.
He added: “The data we have shows that the infection rate has risen, mainly due to social interactions, particularly private household gatherings.
“In shops and hospitality venues there are strict measures in place to ensure they are Covid-free, whereas it is much easier to inadvertently pass on the virus in someone’s house, where people are more relaxed and less vigilant.”
Since reopening on July 4 following lockdown, Wetherspoons said some 32million people had visited its 861 open pubs.
It said of the 50 affected, 40 have reported one worker testing positive for the coronavirus and six pubs have disclosed two.
“Most of the reported cases have been mild or asymptomatic and 28 of the 66 employees have already returned to work, after self-isolating in accordance with medical guidelines,” a spokesman said.
In addition, two pubs reported three staff testing positive and two pubs said four workers had.
Mr Martin claimed pubs needed flexibility to be able to survive the crisis.
“If pubs are closed, or restricted so much that they become unprofitable, a great deal of the strenuous effort of the hospitality industry’s 3.2million employees, currently engaged on upholding hygiene and social distancing standards, will be lost – leaving the public to socialise at home or elsewhere, in unsupervised circumstances.
“Although it is clearly possible for Covid-19 infections to take place in pubs and shops, the evidence indicates that the risk is low, provided social distancing and hygiene rules are followed, and common sense is used.”
Birmingham City Council leader Cllr Ian Ward, speaking at a regional press conference on Friday, said it was still safe to go to the pub.
He said: “You CAN go to the pub or restaurant in a maximum group of six. The reason for this difference is the data and information is telling us it’s household gatherings together in one home where they are spreading the virus. When you go to the pub or restaurant, a risk assessment will be done.”