Boris Johnson set to announce lockdown to last three more weeks

Boris Johnson has said he will proceed with “maximum caution” in easing the lockdown, with the main restrictions expected to be in place for another three weeks. Read more: Boris Johnson set to announce lockdown to last three more weeks

Boris Johnson set to announce lockdown to last three more weeks

Boris Johnson has said he will proceed with “maximum caution” in easing the lockdown, with the main restrictions expected to be in place for another three weeks.

The prime minister told the cabinet this morning that the government would not do anything that “risks a second peak” of coronavirus.

While some measures will be relaxed from Monday, such as allowing people to exercise more than once a day and sunbathing in parks, Downing Street said the changes would be “very limited”.

Mr Johnson said: “We are not going to do anything that risks a second peak. We will advance with maximum caution in order to protect the NHS and to save lives.

“We will be guided at every step by the science and the data. And we will closely track the impact of any easing of social distancing measures and will not hesitate to tighten the rules if required.”

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, will give a press conference this evening in which he will confirm that the lockdown has been formally extended.

Mr Johnson will give a speech to the nation on Sunday in which he will set out a “road map” for easing lockdown restrictions as long as the transmission rate of coronavirus remains low.

He is expected to say that people can take as much outdoor exercise as they like and to announce plans to restart open-air sporting activities such as tennis, golf and fishing.

Businesses will be issued with guidance so that they can prepare workplaces with appropriate social-distancing measures for people to come back to work.

However, the phased reopening of schools is not expected to begin until June and restrictions limiting people to contact with those in their households are likely to remain.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, attempted to play down expectations that the lockdown would be lifted imminently.

He told Sky News: “I think it would be wrong to get too carried away. I think we’ve got to understand that this is a pandemic and a virus that spreads so easily that we have to be very cautious as we look at how we come out of the current lockdown.”

He added: “The worst thing that could happen would be to have a very fast, quick and dangerous second peak to this virus.”

Public Health England is understood to have told staff to drop the “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives” slogan from Saturday night. A new slogan urges people to “Stay safe, save lives”. In a sign of the changed approach, PHE said that it was “reviewing all communications materials in anticipation of moving to the next phase of the government campaign”.

Mr Johnson, speaking at his first prime minister’s questions since recovering from Covid-19, sought to justify his intention to announce a plan for easing restrictions on Sunday. He said: “The reason is very simple. We have to be sure that the data is going to support our ability to do this, but that data is coming in continuously over the next few days.

“We will want, if we possibly can, to get going with some of these measures on Monday, and I think it will be a good thing if people have an idea of what is coming the following day. That is why I think Sunday is the best time to do it, but of course the House will be fully informed and will have the full opportunity to debate and interrogate me or the government on that matter.”

Earlier Matt Hancock, the health secretary, suggested that outdoor cafés could open in the summer. He told Sky News: “There is strong evidence that outdoors the spread is much, much lower, so there may be workarounds that some businesses, for instance cafés, especially over the summer, may be able to put into place. We will want . . . to get going with some of these measures on Monday, and I think it will be a good thing if people have an idea of what is coming the following day.”

The three-week review will take place today but Mr Johnson will not set out any changes until Sunday. The prime minister’s spokesman said he wanted to “take a bit of time to ensure we get the measures and messaging right”.

Mr Johnson has promised to announce plans for socially distanced work, travel and schooling. He said that it would include extensive measures to provide workers with alternatives to “mass transit” in what could herald a “golden age of cycling”.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, said he must ease lockdown measures slowly if he wanted her to adopt the same approach. She said: “What we cannot have is any part of the UK or any area being forced to lift restrictions before the evidence says that it is safe to do so. I will continue to seek to be guided by the evidence and to apply best judgment to it.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, told BBC Good Morning Scotland that he thinks the restrictions should continue. “Lockdown needs to stay in place until we are sure the infection rate has gone down,” he said. “I will be very surprised if the government doesn’t reimpose the lockdown when it comes up for review later on and we will support them in that. This is not about lifting the lockdown now, it’s about planning for the future.”

Mr Johnson and Downing Street have repeatedly said they want the UK to move as a whole. In their first Commons clash, Sir Keir demanded more clarity over personal protective equipment before Sunday’s moves to start a return to work.

The government has delayed issuing draft guidance on PPE and face-coverings amid concerns it could worsen shortages in the NHS and care homes.

Sir Keir said “clearly there are ongoing problems” with PPE and that “it is obvious that this problem is going to get even more acute if and when the government ask people to return to work” as more people will need it.

Mr Johnson said that “it has been enraging to see the difficulties we’ve had in supplying PPE to those who need it” but the government was now “engaged in a massive plan to ramp up domestic supply”.

Sir Keir extracted a series of concessions from Mr Johnson after confirmation that Britain had the highest death toll from the virus in Europe.

Mr Johnson admitted that community testing had been abandoned in the middle of March because of a lack of capability.

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Boris Johnson set to announce lockdown to last three more weeks

Source : Business Matters More   

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Does the government’s financial balancing act stack up?

Chancellor Sunak’s emergency financial measures have come under extreme review as of late with many in the industry being quick to slate the quickly launched schemes. Read more: Does the government’s financial balancing act stack up?

Does the government’s financial balancing act stack up?

Chancellor Sunak’s emergency financial measures have come under extreme review as of late with many in the industry being quick to slate the quickly launched schemes.

Sherad Dewedi, Manager Partner at Shenward LLP discusses whether the government’s far-reaching financial support has done enough to meet the nation’s needs, or if these acts of astounding magnanimity are simply storing up vast levels of debt for generations to come.

The government’s unparalleled response has undoubtedly saved countless businesses and jobs, protecting the livelihood and way of life of millions as we enter Phase Two of the crisis.

There’s little disagreement that government funding has been overwhelming in breadth and generosity, but as with all hastily made decisions, there are unforeseen exceptions and long-term side effects to each broad-brushed policy.

The huge centralised programme of intervention including grants, rebates, deferrals of VAT and income tax have been exceptional in intention, reach and execution. But the clock is ticking, and businesses are still on pause.

For businesses accessing the job retention scheme, self-employed grants, cash grants from local authorities, the wait has been a long one. The best estimate is that it’s taking three months to get funds to businesses, the self-employed, and the million-plus new Universal Credit applicants, which not only raised concerns around the many people experiencing financial hardship, but also around how these individuals’ mental health and families are being affected.

That being said, some immediate solutions have been put in place. HMRC for example is taking a welcome pragmatic approach for businesses and individuals paying tax liabilities with their Time to Pay agreements. Deferring VAT and Income Tax has aided cash flow enormously and has helped keep many businesses afloat, but there’s the added concern that later down the line these bills will be due and could cause significant issues for individuals who are still struggling to bounce back from the crisis.

Nevertheless, it must be recognised that both the government and HMRC has acted quickly in the grand scheme of things, but quick reactions come with quicker consequences. The government were quick to launch the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, which was designed in just 4 days, and as a result, it has been beset with difficulties in accessing.

For this reason, small business owners have instead turned to the Bounceback Loan Scheme in droves, with more than 100,000 applications in the first few hours. Through this scheme, businesses can borrow up to £50,000, at lower rates than under the coronavirus interruption loan scheme, but only to a maximum of 25% of their turnover.

But, these bounceback loans for small businesses are designed to be quicker for banks to approve and have a 100% government guarantee, which in itself raises concerns about people potentially flouting the system. Furthermore, the Treasury has set the price for all lenders at 2.5% after the interest-free period, a significantly lower rate compared with business interruption loans of about 3% – 5%, and with these loans being easier to access with a simple digital application form and minimal credit checks, it increases the risk massively.

However, there’s no denying that Chancellor Sunak’s policies are supporting the UK economy in the most staggering way and these loans could quickly plug the gap where the Business Interruption Loan Scheme failed to do so; they are a must-do for SME’s feeling the pinch. Furthermore, they are worth considering if already a customer with Lloyds, Barclays and RBS because the anti-money laundering and other checks will have already been passed.

If the bounceback loans simply don’t provide enough financial support, then businesses may have no choice but to explore the Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Looking at the positives, it is interest-free and therefore a favourable option, but it’s also harder to access.

And there’s everyone’s preferable choice; Furlough, the great economic saviour launched with a fanfare of well-deserved headlines. By midnight of its unveiling, 185,000 firms had submitted claims worth £1.5 billion for 1.3 million employees.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is, however, a temporary scheme introduced by government to prevent employees from being made redundant due to decreased workload, decreased revenue or business closure by subsidising. The scheme has been extended by a month until the end of June 2020, but recent news revealed that this may not be sustainable and so the support will need to be reviewed. This follows a call for extension from many business leaders who are desperate to help save jobs, so we fear what will happen to the unemployment rates if the scheme is pulled. Our unease is what will happen when furlough ends. Will we see a vast rise in insolvencies, placing extra demands on other aspects of the economy including commercial property, unemployment and the welfare system?

Again, looking at the positives, providing businesses have been able to survive long enough to meet their payroll obligations before they are able to draw down government funds, the furlough scheme has been yet another godsend.

Another group feeling the pinch are the self-employed with earnings in excess of £50,000, and company directors and shareholders who are not self-employed; they aren’t eligible for the Self Employment Income Support Scheme, and may have already found themselves navigating the welfare system, which has of course made extra concessions.

Similar, looking at the retail sector, there have been significant allowances for smaller traders and there’s an apprehension that retailers with rateable value premises above £51,000 and little profits will get very little help, especially if they are limited companies.

Our ‘nation of shopkeepers’ may be lost forever, accelerating inevitable decline of our high streets and city centres. There’s a concern that landlords and residential tenants have not been protected and many could lose their properties either through eviction for not paying rent, or through repossession.  As with many of these emergency policies, the pain has simply been deferred, with many landlords left to feel it is they who are footing the bill. Insurance companies are sadly not paying out on claims, because COVID-19 is not a ‘known event.

That being said, last week the Chancellor did announce that those businesses ineligible for the Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) and Retail, Leisure Hospitality Grant Fund (RLHGF) can apply for ‘top ups’ of up to £25k, so that could be one option to explore.

It’s a worrying time for many and we don’t know how it will pan out, but whatever the outcome, it is clear that government’s swift economic response has achieved what it set out to do in mid-March; it’s enabled us to Stay Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives.

Read more:
Does the government’s financial balancing act stack up?

Source : Business Matters More   

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