Omicron alert

Furlough may return as Scots face new Covid curbs

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak: looking at options

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to make a further statement today on the latest measures to control the spread of Omicron.

They are expected to include limits on household mixing and an extension to vaccine passports.

Any extension of vaccine passports may embrace booster injections – though these are not yet displayed  as part of the certification app – or on people being able to present a recent negative lateral flow test.

Ms Sturgeon has ruled out an early closure of schools ahead of the Christmas break despite a call from Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS, to shut classrooms on Friday.

The new measures come amid a surge in demand for home deliveries of lateral flow tests which saw supplies run out on the UK Government website.

Businesses will receive further government support and possibly a reintroduction of furlough payments if there is a new lockdown of hospitality venues to halt the spread of the Omicron variant, according to the Treasury.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is understood to have ordered Treasury officials to work on contingency plans to help pubs, bars and restaurants.

Government sources insist there is no immediate plan for a formal lockdown, but one Treasury official told The Times: “If we do get to a position where we are telling businesses that they have to shut their doors then it is not unreasonable for them to expect additional government support. That could mean a return to the furlough scheme.”

Tim Martin, chairman of pubs chain JD Wetherspoon accused the government of introducing “lockdown by stealth”.

The CBI wants the Treasury to reverse the planned end of the VAT discount next April while British Chambers of Commerce director, Shevaun Haviland, has urged the government to consider further VAT help for hospitality and tourism businesses.

Ms Haviland also wants tax reliefs for retail and other sectors to help offset the blow of new guidelines such as the effective ‘ban’ on Christmas parties in Scotland. Boris Johnson says Christmas parties need not be banned.

There is a nationwide call for people to work from home which is also only guidance but led to a 20% fall in commuter traffic in some parts of the UK on Monday.

Businesses are frustrated by the lack of clarity with some claiming the latest advice is worse than lockdown because they are losing business without any further compensation being put in place.

The Treasury has pointed out that there continues to be a £400m package of Covid support measures, including government-backed loans and business rates relief and said it will continue to respond proportionately.

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