Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed a new national lockdown in England to help stem the spread of Covid-19 – and confirmed that the furlough scheme would be extended to give some support for businesses.
Mr Johnson, speaking at a delayed press conference at 10 Downing Street, said a new English four-week lockdown including the closure of restaurants, pubs, entertainment venues and non-essential shops was now needed.
The lockdown will come into force in England at midnight on Thursday, November 5, and is set to end on Wednesday December 2.
The furlough scheme was announced seven months ago as the country went into its first national lockdown and has supported the wages of millions of workers.
The original furlough scheme is ending this weekend. But the Prime Minister also said tonight that it would be extended until December.
Business groups are now demanding more information on the support measures and warned the lockdown could be “devastating”, as the hospitality industry warned that another lockdown could have a massive impact on thousands of firms.
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Mr Johnson said he was “truly, truly sorry” that new measures had to be introduced but said rising coronavirus rates left him with no choice. He said that the NHS could be overwhelmed within weeks without such a lockdown.
He said: “I’m under no illusions about how difficult this will be for businesses which have already had to endure such hardship this year and I’m truly, truly sorry for that – and that’s why we’re going to extend the furlough system through November.
“The furlough system was a success in the spring, it supported people in businesses in a critical time. We will not end it, we will extend furlough until December.”
Mr Johnson said the national restrictions would be eased from December 2 when regions would return to the tiered system.
He added: “Christmas is going to be different this year, perhaps very different. but it’s my sincere hope and belief that by taking tough action now we can allow families across the country to be together.”
News of the planned lockdown was leaked to national media on Friday night, with the Prime Minister moving his announcement from Monday to today as a result.
Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “There’s no getting around the fact that these new restrictions will be a devastating blow to business communities who have done everything in their power to adapt and operate safely.
“Business and market confidence have been hit hard by the unclear, stop-start approach taken by governments across the UK over the past eight months, with little end in sight. Many firms are in a much weaker position now than at the start of the pandemic, making it far more challenging to survive extended closures or demand restrictions.
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“The temporary extension of the furlough scheme will bring short-term relief to many firms, and responds to Chambers’ call for business support to be commensurate with the scale of the restrictions imposed. The full financial support package for businesses facing hardship, whether through loss of demand or closure, must immediately be clarified and communicated. Sustained help must be available to employers, to the self-employed and to the many businesses and individuals that have not been able to access any of the government’s schemes to date.
“The Government must not squander the time afforded to them through another lockdown to enable mass testing and fix Test and Trace systems – which hold the key to a lasting exit strategy for both public health and the economy.
“We will be examining the detail of new restrictions and support carefully over the coming days, together with Chamber business leaders across the country. Business communities will judge them on whether they are clear and evidence-based – and on whether businesses are able to see when these restrictions may come to an end.”
Paul Faulkner, CEO of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, said: “Today was a masterclass in how not to roll out new restrictions which, while aimed at saving lives, will have a dramatic impact on the livelihoods and wellbeing of many. The leaks to the press must stop. The country needs orderly, clear, calm and controlled leadership through this incredibly challenging period.
“The Government must urgently bring forward the support that they will offer businesses through this and stop playing catch up. Today, as the Government introduces strict new national measures, businesses are still waiting for the promised support for those impacted by tier 2. Temporary extension to furlough and existing grant schemes, while very welcome, will not be enough.
“We know many businesses, particularly those in the hospitality, accommodation and tourism industries and those that rely on their trade will be hugely concerned by these developments. We await the full details on Monday and will continue to do our upmost to keep local businesses informed, support our members and lobby on their behalf.”
Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “The announcement from the Prime Minister today will leave night time economy businesses facing a ‘financial armageddon’. It is the most horrific of Halloweens.
“It’s frightening to think that given the gravity of the situation, we are still being given limited communication, consultation or time to respond, or plan around these decisions.
“The entire night time economy consisting of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of workers are suffering.
“Their plight is being made even worse by the huge void in financial support for the sector.
“Many of our businesses have experienced extreme financial hardship, been presented with unmanageable operational measures and have in some cases been forced into complete closure since March.”
Liverpool is already in Tier 3 lockdown. Its metro mayor Steve Rotheram has been pushing the Government to up support for businesses forced to close.
Tonight Bill Addy, chief executive of Liverpool BID Company which represents 1,500 city centre businesses, warned that retail and hospitality businesses urgently needed support if they were to survive.
Posting on LinkedIn, he said: “November represents one of the busiest times of the year for retail and hospitality. Protecting public health is vital, but without proper support I fear for the survival of these sectors and for our high streets.
“The trading period in November is critical to the health of these businesses it is what enables you to get through the quiet weeks of midwinter and the government needs to understand what impact this closure has on the next twelve months and longer.
“Furlough needs to be extended, or the job support needs to be increased back to 80%. Rents and business rates need to be furloughed so we’re not expecting businesses to pay the price of this crisis.
“And, please, can this government tell the people whose livelihoods will take the hit first, rather than having them wake up on a Saturday morning to let them find out via social media they might not be able to pay their bills this month?”
Mark Davyd, chief executive of the Music Venue Trust, said: “National lockdowns have been announced in France, Germany and the UK.
“In France, the government has announced it will cover 100% of wages for people impacted by the required lockdown. In Germany, the government will cover 75% of lost turnover.
“Across the country, grassroots music venues have been told to close from Thursday, but we have no similar commitment from the UK Government.
“We look forward to urgent details from ministers on the financial package that will protect businesses and livelihoods in this vital, world leading British industry.”
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of New West End Company, described a circuit-breaker lockdown of non-essential travel and retail as “a true nightmare before Christmas for West End retailers”.
The West End employs one in 10 Londoners, and this year’s run up to Christmas is shaping up to deliver “some of the most difficult trading periods we’ve ever experienced”, he said.
Mr Tyrrell added: “Many jobs have already been lost, and many more are at risk, unless trading levels increase or furlough is reinstated.
“In addition to emergency support to cover lost wages, the Government must make an immediate announcement that it will maintain essential support measures such as continued business rates relief after April next year.
“Retailers and the public need to be reassured that there is light at the end of the tunnel, as continued uncertainty and stop-start measures are undermining confidence and worsening an already catastrophic situation.”