Coronavirus: UK to unveil new financial measures to support economy

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Les Miserables is among the shows that have closed for the foreseeable future

The government is set to announce more financial measures to help the economy during the coronavirus outbreak, amid warnings the latest restrictions could put firms out of business.

Boris Johnson has urged everyone to avoid unnecessary social contacts, to work from home where possible, and to stay away from pubs and restaurants.

People in at-risk groups will be asked within days to stay home for 12 weeks.

The number of people who have died with the virus in the UK has reached 55.

More than 1,500 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK – but the actual number of cases is estimated to be between 35,000 and 50,000.

The expected economic announcement comes less than a week after new Chancellor Rishi Sunak published his Budget, which included a £30bn package to boost the economy and get the country through the outbreak.

Mr Sunak is also expected to appear at the now daily Downing Street news conference later.

Help for the airline industry, which has been crippled by travel bans and a collapse in demand, is expected to be among the new measures, according to BBC political correspondent Chris Mason.

Pubs, theatres and music venues have also raised concerns about the impact of the government’s new guidance on their businesses.

Many have expressed anger that the prime minister advised people to stay away from social venues while not forcing premises to close, which could have given them financial protection.

Theatres and music venues around the UK, including the National Theatre, London Palladium and Royal Opera House, have announced they are to close from Monday night until further notice

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Media captionBoris Johnson: “It look as though we are now approaching the fast growth part of the upward curve”

In Boris Johnson’s first daily update on Monday he acknowledged the economy was facing “a severe blow” because of the virus.

The key new measures he announced included:

  • Everyone should avoid gatherings and crowded places, such as pubs, clubs and theatres
  • Everyone should work from home if they can
  • All “unnecessary” visits to friends and relatives in care homes should cease
  • People should only use the NHS “where we really need to” – and can reduce the burden on workers by getting advice on the NHS website where possible
  • By next weekend, those with the most serious health conditions must be “largely shielded from social contact for around 12 weeks”
  • If one person in any household has a persistent cough or fever, everyone living there must stay at home for 14 days
  • Those people should, if possible, avoid leaving the house “even to buy food or essentials” – but they may leave the house “for exercise and, in that case, at a safe distance from others”
  • Schools will not be closed for the moment

Under the guidance, people who should be “particularly stringent” in minimising their social contact are:

  • People over the age of 70
  • Other adults who would normally be advised to have the flu vaccine (such as those with chronic diseases)
  • Pregnant women

Why has the UK plan ramped up?

The UK’s plan has shifted because the scientific modelling showed we were on course for a “catastrophic epidemic”.

A strategy of just slowing the spread of the virus, but not trying to stop it, would have overwhelmed intensive care units.

The modelling by Imperial College London has been heavily informed by the experience in Italy and is influencing decisions at the heart of government.

Its calculations predicted 260,000 deaths in the UK.

Instead the plan is to drive down the number of cases to very low levels, which the models predict will limit deaths from coronavirus to the thousands or tens of thousands.

However, this approach comes with a major problem – there is no exit strategy.

Without the immunity that would build up if people were infected, then cases would soar as soon as measures are lifted.

The report said these could need to be in place until a vaccine is available, which could take up to 18 months.

We are in this for the long haul.

Meanwhile, some legislation will pass through the Commons unopposed this week as MPs feel the pressure to tackle the virus.

Emergency legislation on the outbreak, which will be introduced to Parliament on Thursday, and the government’s Budget will get “nodded through”, rather than opposition MPs calling for a vote.

The cabinet and shadow cabinet are also due to meet.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met the prime minister on Monday evening and demanded support for the self-employed and those who cannot get statutory sick pay.

He described the government’s communication strategy as “worse than inadequate”, adding that they did not share the science and rationale behind their decisions with the public.

Mr Corbyn – who is 70 – said he would not follow advice to self-isolate and would carry on his duties as normal.

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Media captionThe BBC’s Laura Foster explains the UK’s latest coronavirus measures

On Monday the total number of people in the UK to test positive for the virus rose by 171 in a day to a total of 1,543, according to the latest Department of Health figures. The latest cases include 30 more from Wales and 18 in Scotland.

Most of those who have died in the UK have been people over the age of 60 with underlying health conditions.

In Monday’s briefing, Mr Johnson said the UK was approaching “the fast growth part of the upward curve” in the number of cases.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, said the UK is now “three weeks” behind Italy.

Italy, the worst-affected nation outside China – where the virus originated – has more than 25,000 cases and has suffered more than 2,000 deaths.