The Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin has vowed to keep his 867 UK pubs open as long as possible claiming the idea of shutting hostelries is "over the top".

The pub entrepreneur defended his right to issue public pronouncements on the best way to contain the outbreak.

The government has advised the public to stay away from pubs and bars as part of social distancing measurs, but has stopped short of outright closure of sites.

And Mr Martin said he aims for his pubs to be open "for the duration".

His comments have been criticised by many on social media as "irresponsible".

Mr Martin said: "This could go on for a long time. And I think that once you shut them down, it is very difficult.

HeraldScotland:

"Supermarkets are very very crowded. And pubs are much less crowded. There's been hardly any transmission of the virus within pubs. And I think it is over the top to shut them.

"That's a commercial view, but I think it's a common sense view."

He denied that keeping the chain’s pubs open was irresponsible.

He said: “Am I out of my depth? We’re a democracy, aren’t we? I’m obviously not an expert but I’ve got a view and that’s all I can say. People can accept it or not. Even if you’re not an epidemiologist you can look at what other countries do and weigh up what’s happened.

“More people have caught the virus in one building, parliament, than in all our pubs combined.”

HeraldScotland:

It came as J D Wetherspoon issued its results for the 26 weeks ended 26 January 2020.

The company's revenue before exceptional items was £933.0m, compared with £889.6m in the same period the year before. Profit before tax was £57.9m , which is higher than the £50.3m in the comparative period in the previous year.

Mr Martin, who has previously issued lengthy message in support of Brexit, maintained his defiant stance after releasing a statement earlier this week saying the government would be wrong to prevent people visiting pubs and restaurants, and advocating “group immunity” as a strategy for the UK.

HeraldScotland: Wetherspoons new jobs

The pub chain reported falling sales have dropped further after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told punters to stay at home and not visit Britain’s pubs.

The pub chain said that sales, which had risen by 3.2% in the previous six weeks, started falling by 4.5% in the week ending March 15, as the coronavirus pandemic scared customers off.

The decline picked up even further when the Prime Minister told people that it was vital they do not visit pubs in order to slow the spread of the highly infectious disease.

Mr Martin described the outlook for pubs as “f**king awful” but was survivable.

Earlier this week, Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of trade body UK Hospitality, warned that the Government must act quickly to shore up the industry or up to one million jobs could be lost.

Mr Martin added: “It is obviously very difficult to predict, in these circumstances, how events will unfold in future weeks and months, but we now anticipate profits being below market expectations, so long as the current health scare continues. As a result of this uncertainty, it is impossible to provide realistic guidance on our performance in the remainder of the financial year.

HeraldScotland:

HeraldScotland:

“The company has decided to delay most capital projects and to reduce expenditure, where possible, including the cancellation of the interim dividend. As a result of these actions, combined with the Government’s proposals on business rates relief and credit guarantee facilities, the company believes it has sufficient liquidity to maintain operations at a substantially lower level of sales.

“As many companies and commentators have noted, the current health crisis places the hospitality industry, in particular, under great pressure. Wetherspoon, like our peers, will be working closely with all parties, including employees, banks, landlords and suppliers, in order to emerge from the situation in the best shape.”