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Boris Johnson plans extra help for U.K. businesses hit by covid rules

Boris Johnson's government has drawn up rescue measures for U.K. businesses struggling to cope in areas forced into local covid lockdowns, as ministers prepare to impose tighter rules within days.

No firm date has been set for rolling out the package, which is dependent on changes to the restrictions as the pandemic unfolds, according to people familiar with the matter.

But an assistance package may be needed imminently as Johnson's team considers tightening restrictions further, with changes likely on Monday.

Measures under discussion include closing pubs and restaurants in some parts of England where the virus is most prevalent, though no final decisions have been taken, a person familiar with the matter said.

With about 17 million people in areas under stricter virus restrictions, the government has faced growing calls from businesses and opposition parties to do more to help those affected. On Wednesday, with infection rates continuing to rise across England, Johnson pledged to help those in need.

"We will continue to provide support across the country, to put our arms around jobs and livelihoods in the country as we have done throughout this pandemic," the prime minister said in Parliament.

Johnson and his team are trying to balance the public health priorities of getting control over rising infection rates against the need to keep the economy open, and to avoid piling up ever-growing debt to pay for pandemic support to businesses and workers.

So far ministers have tried to use local lockdown measures instead of another shuttering of the economy but analysis from the opposition Labour Party on Wednesday suggested these steps are not working.

The hospitality industry was given a boost in August by government subsidies to reduce the cost of dining out. But officials -- including Johnson -- have now conceded the "Eat Out to Help Out" initiative may have contributed to spreading the virus, as more people mixed in restaurants, cafes and pubs.

There are divisions in the cabinet over what to do, with Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak worrying about the wider implications for the economy of tougher lockdown rules.

Sunak said last month he would be "ready to do more as the situation evolves" to help companies hit by new restrictions. With the coronavirus caseload now rising sharply in the U.K., the calls for new measures are likely to intensify soon. More than 14,000 new daily cases were reported Wednesday, almost a fivefold increase on a month ago.

Johnson named London as a city where the disease is spreading, as data showed 19 out of the 20 areas under local lockdown measures in England have seen a rise in infection rates. In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ordered pubs to close for two weeks in its two biggest cities.

The prime minister has repeatedly said he doesn't want another national lockdown, but all options remain on the table if hospitalizations spiral out of control. Local leaders in northern England are bracing themselves for further restrictions, as infection rates soar in cities including Liverpool and Manchester.

"I wish I could pretend that everything was going to be rosy in the Midlands or, indeed, in London where, alas, we are also seeing infections rise," Johnson said in Parliament. "That is why we need a concerted national effort, we need to follow the guidance."


Published : October 08, 2020

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Alex Morales, Todd Gillespie · BUSINESS, WORLD, US-GLOBAL-MARKETS