The British government outlined a further series of measures on Friday to bolster the country's fight against the growing economic and healthcare impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced that some businesses are being closed and employees workers across the economy left out of work are now guaranteed up to 80% of their wages.
Already schools have been closed indefinitely and several businesses have cut back their operations.
Announcing the closure order effective this weekend, Prime Minister Johnson listed restaurants (except for take-aways and deliveries), pubs, restaurants, theatres, leisure centres and gyms.
No specific reopening date was specified but the Prime Minister stated that this could be reviewed in a month.
Public transportation services are also being scaled back.
Focusing on the gravity of the situation, Mr Johnson said: “We are going to defeat this disease with a huge national effort to slow the spread by reducing unnecessary social contact.
“I know it has been tough, I know it has been inconvenient, but these actions that we’re all taking together are already helping to take the strain off our NHS (National Health Service).”
“We will be able to save literally thousands of lives of people of all ages, people who don’t deserve to die now,” the Prime Minister intoned in underlining the importance of washing hands, sanitizing and maintaining social distance to prevent the virus from spreading further and alleviating the pressure on the NHS.
The NHS is at the forefront of the UK’s fight against the spread of COVID-19.
The government had previously announced an extensive package of measures for the NHS to help it cope with the crisis but it's struggling under the demand.
Stressing the importance of compliance with this first-phase of closure of establishments nationwide, Mr Johnson stated: “I know how difficult this is, how it seems to go against the freedom-loving instincts of the British people.
“And I also know much, right now, workers and business deserve the financial reassurance we are giving them.”
Following an earlier package of relief for businesses and workers the government is now extending the level of support as the economy contracts.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, said the support being put in place was unprecedented in the UK and exceeds what other countries are offering.
“Today I can announce that, for the first time in our history, the government is going to step in and help to pay people’s wages,” Chancellor Sunak said.
“We’re setting up a new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Any employer in the country – small or large, charitable or non-profit - will be eligible for the scheme.
“Employers will be able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on payroll, rather than being laid off.
Government grants will cover 80% of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month – that’s above the median income. And, of course, employers can top up salaries further if they choose to.”
Mr Sunak explained “that means workers in any part of the UK can retain their job, even if their employer cannot afford to pay them, and be paid at least 80% of their salary.”
“We have never had a scheme in our country like this before – and we’re having to build our systems from scratch,” the Chancellor added.
The Johnson administration was previously criticized for not going far enough fast enough to alleviate the pressure on businesses and workers, especially the self-employed.
Prime Minister Johnson said, “These measures are intended to be temporary and of course I am confident that, in time, the UK economy is going to bounce back. Of course it is.”
But he underscored: “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.”