THE chancellor has promised he will do ‘whatever it takes’ to help companies and workers cope with the financial impact of coronavirus.
Rishi Sunak said ‘never before in peacetime have we faced an economic crisis like this’, as he unveiled an ‘unprecedented’ package including £330billion in loans for businesses.
Companies in hospitality, retail and leisure will get a 12-month business rates holiday, while small firms in the sector will be eligible for £25,000 grants. Mr Sunak also said mortgage lenders had agreed to a request for people struggling to pay to be granted three months of relief. And plans to protect renters will be revealed soon.
Boris Johnson, who stood alongside the chancellor at a press conference yesterday, said: ‘We must act like a wartime government and do whatever it takes to support our economy.’
The prime minister’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said he believed more than 55,000 people in the UK had been infected with Covid-19. As fatalities here went up to 71, he told MPs that officials were hoping to keep the death toll to fewer than 20,000.
Mr Johnson did not announce any new restrictions on everyday life but said measures such as school closures could soon be introduced. Mr Sunak said: ‘This struggle will not be overcome by a single package of measures or isolated interventions.
‘It will be won through a collective national effort, every one of us doing all we can to protect family, neighbours, friends, jobs. This national effort will be underpinned by government interventions in the economy on a scale unimaginable only a few weeks ago.’
The chancellor also insisted companies would be able to make insurance claims for interruption of trade because of the official advice to avoid pubs, clubs and theatres — despite bosses having raised concerns to the contrary.
And it was announced that pubs and restaurants will be allowed to become takeaways to help feed people forced into self-isolation by the virus.
Mr Sunak expressed resistance to the idea of Britain adopting proposals from the US and Japan, which are considering sending cash to all citizens to help keep them financially afloat.
But transport secretary Grant Shapps hinted airlines, rail and bus companies could all be temporarily nationalised to help wider society. He told MPs that good organisations ‘shouldn’t be going bust’ as a result of Covid-19 and that a lot of different responses will be required — including ‘on occasions organisations being run by the public sector’.
Meanwhile, police are to be handed powers to arrest and isolate people to protect public health in an emergency coronavirus bill to be put to parliament tomorrow. Mr Johnson did not deny reports — when asked about them at the press conference – that he had joked about the NHS’s shortage of hospital ventilators.
The prime minister reportedly said during a summit with business leaders on Monday night that the search for more of the vital equipment could be dubbed ‘operation last gasp’.
■ BORIS JOHNSON will not extend the Brexit transition period in spite of the coronavirus outbreak disrupting UK-EU trade talks. A government spokesman said talks due tomorrow will not be ‘formally held’ but both sides remain ‘fully committed’ and the December 31 deadline is ‘enshrined in UK law’.
I’ll go to the pub, says PM’s dad
STANLEY JOHNSON is taking a glass half-full view of coronavirus — vowing a pub visit despite his son’s warning.
Boris Johnson urged people to ‘avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues’. The prime minister said the advice was particularly important for people aged over 70.
But Stanley, 79, said: ‘I’ll go to a pub if I need to go to a pub.’ He told ITV’s This Morning: ‘People who run pubs need a little bit of people, don’t they?’