Pub giant Wetherspoons has said trading was “very quiet” over the weekend, before the Government tightened restrictions on larger social gatherings.
Tim Martin, founder and chairman of the group, shrugged off claims that larger groups might rush to the pub before the implementation of the new “rule of six” from Monday.
The new rule means people could face fines of up to £3,200 if they are involved in social gatherings of more than six people.
Mr Martin said: “Trade was very quiet over the weekend, as the public weighed up the evidence about the alleged dangers of going out – Wetherspoon sales were 22.5% below the equivalent Saturday last year.”
Trade groups, including the British Beer & Pub Association, said the new rule will halt the recovery of hospitality firms without extended financial support for the sector.
Mr Martin told investors on Monday that he believes the safety of pubs during the pandemic has been “widely misunderstood”.
Wetherspoons said about 32 million people have visited its pubs since they reopened their doors at the start of July.
The company said it has reported 66 positive tests for Covid-19 among its 41,564 employees since reopening.
Mr Martin said 811 pubs have reported zero positive tests, 40 pubs have reported one, six pubs have reported two, two pubs reported three and two pubs reported four.
The firm said 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.
Wetherspoons said it has invested around £15 million in its social distancing and hygiene measures.
Last month, the group said like-for-like bar and food sales were down 16.9% for the 44 days to August 16, compared with the same period last year.
Mr Martin said the sales slump means it expects to post a loss for the year to July 26.