Boris Johnson has dashed hopes of additional financial support for businesses after delaying the full opening of the UK economy by four weeks due to a rise in coronavirus cases.
The British Prime Minister said “it is now time to let go of the accelerator” of the unlock, adding that a cautious approach could “save many thousands of lives by vaccinating millions more people”.
The move to “step four” of the government’s easing plan has been delayed due to the rapid spread of the Delta strain of the coronavirus first identified in India. Businesses will be asked to keep employees at home where possible – prompting a rethink for many companies – while nightclubs remain closed and indoor socializing limits remain in effect for another four weeks.
Businesses will face the return of significant costs in July, although many will not be legally able to reopen or fully trade. Employers will have to contribute 10 percent to the leave costs, as well as part of their business rates.
The Johnson government has spent £407bn to help businesses through the crisis, but the Federation of Small Businesses called on ministers to delay phasing out the workers’ leave scheme, which provides 80 percent of a usual salary.
The FSB also urged the government to write off bounceback loans for businesses that are still closed and extend the full corporate fee exemption for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses.
“Businesses have spent thousands ordering food and drink, selling tickets and marketing events in preparation for this date, while restaurants and bars have counted on opening fully to recoup more than a year in lost revenue.” , said Craig Beaumont, FSB’s chief of external affairs.
But Johnson ruled out any changes to the time frame for the phasing out of the leave or the business support program.
“We always made sure that the leave arrangement would last until September to take into account the whole spread of the roadmap. The Chancellor has always been very clear about that,” he said at a Downing Street news conference. “Based on what we can see in the data now, based on the effectiveness of the vaccine, we don’t think we need to change. “
Leaders in the hospitality industry said a month’s delay to the reopening of the economy would cost the sector £3bn in lost sales. UKHospitality, the industry association, said the new slowdown in the economic reopening would put 300,000 jobs at risk.
Over the next month, the NHS plans to offer two doses of Covid-19 vaccinations to two-thirds of England’s adult population, including all those over 40. All adults are offered one shot for the relaxation.
Although Johnson described July 19, when all restrictions will now end, as an “end date,” he did not rule out a further delay if the data indicated the health service would be overwhelmed.
“I am convinced that we will not need more than four weeks and that we do not need to go further than July 19. It is undeniably clear that the vaccines are working and the sheer scale of the rollout has made our position incomparably better than before. ,” he said.
On Monday, 7,742 new cases of coronavirus were reported and three more deaths. The prime minister said the number of intensive care cases was on the rise and the number of Covid-19 infections grew by 64 percent across the country week after week.
Some senior ministers expressed dismay at the delay, while a number of Conservative MPs could stand in the back seat against the government, citing the success of the UK’s rapid vaccination programme.
The cabinet said in the spring that it would not withdraw the leave scheme in its entirety until the end of September.
A senior government leader said this was still generous compared to other countries, including France, where companies are now required to pay 25 percent of the wages of those receiving state aid.
The official added that the government had put in place a £2bn scheme specifically for municipalities to distribute funds to companies in hard-pressed sectors that were still struggling. Half of this amount had not yet been spent, the official added.
The UK is still considering a partial extension of the rent moratorium this week, which would provide some relief to retail and hospitality as landlords owe as much as £6bn in rent from tenants closed during the pandemic.
However, the prime minister did make some concessions. The limit on those attending weddings will be lifted from June 21 – both indoors and out – but social distancing is required, along with masks and no dance floors.
Medical and scientific advisors believe that the Delta strain is between 40 and 80 percent more transmissible than the previously dominant Alpha strain first identified in Kent. The new Delta variant is growing at 70 percent weekly in the UK.
But new data from Public Health England highlighted the effectiveness of the two vaccines currently used in the UK against the Delta variant. The analysis suggested that the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine is 96 percent effective against hospitalization, while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 92 percent effective.
Mary Ramsay, head of immunization at PHE, confirmed that the shots provided “significant protection” against the Delta strain. “It’s imperative to get both doses as soon as they’re offered to you, to get maximum protection against all existing and emerging variants,” she said.
Johnson was admonished by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, for failing to announce the changes to parliament first.
“I find it totally unacceptable that we see Downing Street again, again, members of parliament running rough-eyed,” he said.