Britain closes pubs, promises help for coronavirus-hit businesses






London - By Bill Smith, - Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday ordered all British pubs, cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues to close, promising "an exceptional package of support" for businesses and low-paid workers during the coronavirus pandemic.



The government will defer value-added tax payments for all businesses until the end of June and pay 80 per cent of the wages for lower-paid employees who are unable to work because of the outbreak.
Johnson said the measures are "intended to be temporary and of course I am confident that, in time, the UK economy is going to bounce back."
"But I must be absolutely clear with you, the speed of that eventual recovery depends entirely on our ability, our collective ability, to get on top of the virus now," he said.
"And that means we have to take the next steps, on scientific advice and following our plan, we are strengthening the measures announced on Monday."
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said anyone earning less than 2,500 pounds (2,950 dollars) per month who cannot work because of the Covid-19 outbreak would benefit from the government payments.
Waiving the sales tax is expected to boost the economy by some 30 billion pounds, Sunak said.
The Bank of England lowered the base interest rate to a record low of 0.1 per cent on Thursday and launched a 200-billion-pound bond-buying programme, after stock markets and the British currency recorded some of their biggest falls in decades.
Many businesses have suspended production and most cafes, shops and restaurants had already shut before Johnson's order.
Carmaker Jaguar Land Rover on Friday said it plans to suspend production in at its British plants until at least April 20.
The annual Farnborough International Air Show, one of the world's leading aviation events, cancelled this year's event, scheduled for July.
"The unprecedented impact of the global coronavirus pandemic has forced this decision in the interests of the health and safety of our exhibitors, visitors, contractors and staff," the air show organizers said.
Sunak had announced a first 30-billion-pound package last week to encourage economic stability, including loans, grants and tax concessions for small businesses, and more generous sick pay for employees.
He told Parliament that the coronavirus outbreak was expected to leave up to one-fifth of people of working age, or some 6 million people, unable to work at any one time.
The government on Thursday denied reports that it plans to begin a lockdown in London in the next few days, but panic-buying continued in many areas on Friday.
Johnson said "nothing is ruled out," urging people to avoid all non-essential social contact.
Health authorities confirmed 33 deaths on Friday, taking Britain's total to 177, as the number of confirmed infections rose to 3,983.
Government health experts say tens of thousands of British people are probably infected.
In the Isle of Man, which has separate laws from the rest of Britain, police said they detained a man who refused to comply with the island's new requirement for all arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days.

 


Friday, March 20th 2020
By Bill Smith,
           


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