Experts set two-week deadline to avoid losing control of virus spreading
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak ruled out an autumn budget and instead launched an emergency job support program on Thursday, that includes wage subsidies, business tax cuts and more cheap loans for struggling businesses.
Announcing the move in Parliament, Sunak said his “winter economy plan” would replace the existing furlough program when it ends on Oct 31, and would help the economy cope with new social restrictions announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week.
The multi-billion-pound support package is believed to be similar to the one being used in Germany, with taxpayers subsidizing the wages of workers returning to work part-time after being furloughed.
Sunak said the subsidy means workers will get up to 77 percent of their wages for the next six months, covered jointly by companies and the government, but that employees will have to work for at least a third of their normal hours to qualify.
Trade unions had warned of mass job cuts as new restrictions were introduced this week in an effort to curb the spread of a new wave of COVID-19 cases. The new measures include a 10pm curfew for bars and restaurants and an order for office staff to work from home.
Scientists advising the British government have warned that the country may only have two weeks to prevent the number of novel coronavirus cases soaring out of control.
The government announced 6,178 new cases in the United Kingdom on Wednesday, the highest daily total since May 1, and members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, or SAGE, believe more restrictions will be needed to stop further spread.
According to a report in the Financial Times, advisors are recommending the closure of all bars and restaurants and a return to the two-meter social distancing rule.
More than 400,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus have been recorded so far in the UK, and more than 40,000 people have died.
The newspaper quoted Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at University College London, as saying the latest restrictions were not sufficient.
“We needed to use the summer months to drive down transmission, we knew that otherwise it wouldn’t be safe to open schools. That wasn’t done, and predictably we are where we are now. We’ve got two weeks in which to turn this around,” she said. “If we leave it much later, we’ll lose control, it’s absolutely urgent.”
On Monday, the government’s chief scientific adviser warned that the UK could see 50,000 new cases a day by the middle of next month without further action.
Patrick Vallance said this could lead to about “200-plus deaths per day” by mid-November. However, many news outlets, including BBC, noted that Spain and France, which have already seen new surges, have not suffered the sort of rapid trajectory that was presented by the advisers.
The UK government launched an app on Thursday to help control the spread of the virus and to help people “protect themselves and their loved ones as case numbers rise”.
Department of Health and Social Care said that after positive trials and rigorous testing, “it is an important new tool to work alongside traditional contact tracing to help reduce the spread of the virus”.
The app uses Apple and Google technology that will alert people if they have been close to someone with the novel coronavirus. A previous version of the app was scrapped after months of testing.
Britain is planning to host “human challenge” clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with novel coronavirus to test the effectiveness of experimental vaccines, the Financial Times reported. The government-funded project is expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London, the report said.
The UK government has built a four-month stockpile of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for the National Health Service in an effort to avoid shortages in the case of a second wave of COVID-19, the paper also reported.
A person familiar with the plan told the paper that the government is also aiming to have PPE items manufactured in the UK to avoid logistics bottlenecks that were experienced during the first phase of the pandemic.
The Guardian reported that the National Health Service is reportedly struggling to hold on to its nursing staff, who are quitting in the face of grueling 12-hour shifts, exhaustion and burnout.
A report by the King’s Fund thinktank found that stress, lack of access to food and drink while at work, and the relentless demands of caring for patients were the key factors.