The Wetherspoons founder 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 per cent below the equivalent Saturday last year.”

Since reopening, Mr Martin confirmed that 66 of its 41,564 employees tested positive for Covid-19.

Mr Martin told investors on Monday that he believes the safety of pubs during the pandemic has been “widely misunderstood”.

Since reopening, 811 pubs reported zero positive tests, 40 pubs reported one, six pubs reported two and just four pubs reported three or four cases.

The firm said most of the reported cases have been mild or asymptomatic, and 27 of the 68 employees have already returned to work after self-isolating.

Wetherspoons said about 32 million people have visited its pubs since they reopened their doors at the start of July.

Trade groups, including the British Beer & Pub Association, said the new rule six-person rule will halt the recovery of hospitality firms without extended financial support for the sector.

Wetherspoons said that they have already invested £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.