Four more weeks
Business frets as Johnson delays Freedom Day
Boris Johnson: ‘we will have to live with it’
Boris Johnson has delayed ‘Freedom Day’ by a further four weeks, causing businesses already on the brink to warn that many may not survive the summer without further help.
The Prime Minister announced his decision after scientists warned the Indian variant of Covid-19 could be 80% more infectious.
The PM insisted he cannot press ahead with the full easing of restrictions in England as planned on 21 June until more people are have received two doses of the vaccine.
Over 41m people in the UK have had a first dose of a vaccine, while nearly 30m have had two doses. There were 7,742 new infections reported today, but just three deaths.
Mr Johnson said the disease cannot be eliminated and the country will have to learn to ‘live with it’. But he said he needed to “give the NHS a few more crucial weeks”.
He said: “I think it is sensible to wait a little longer.
The move means that current rules will remain in place until 19 July with social distancing in force in bars and restaurants, and work for home being the default position for those who can do so.
Scotland, which had planned to ease restrictions from 28 June, is certain to follow, and because it has been generally behind on dates this would suggest a full reopening in Scotland on 26 July at the earliest. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to provide an update on Tuesday.
Business groups have demanded more support in face of reports that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak will not extend the furlough scheme and employers will have to start making bigger contributions next month.
Many companies are already facing huge debts and have exhausted personal savings. Some of the support measures will be reduced during the extended period of restrictions.
Mr Johnson said he was confident that 19 July would be a “terminus date”.
Tony Danker, CBI Director-General, said: “Public health comes first, so while a delay is regrettable, it’s understandable.”
But he insisted more support had to be made available: “Continuing restrictions means the Government must urgently revisit the support available.
“That starts with holding back on the tapering of business rates relief [in England] and extending the commercial rent moratorium for those sectors most impacted. A solution must also be found for the hard-pressed international travel sector.
Tony Danker: ‘firms require clarity and guidance’
Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) National Chairman Mike Cherry said: “It is fully understandable that as this pandemic evolves, the goalposts too will move, but many small firms who have been hanging onto the edge will be left wondering if they can survive further periods of restrictions without additional support.
“Employer contribution changes that are due to take hold on the 1 July should delayed until all restrictions have eased, therefore minimising the immense financial burden that small firms are facing.
“Many who have been unable to open are now faced with paying back their Bounce Back Loans. Government should consider writing off spent covid loans for the most restricted firms.”
Claire Walker, Co-Executive Director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: “The government must provide further cash grants, at least equivalent to levels provided during the first lockdown, and delay the tapering of government payments into the furlough scheme, planned for the start of July.
“The government should also consider extending the trade credit reinsurance scheme beyond the end of June to minimise possible disruptions in insurance coverage.
“Government should work with lenders to ensure that appropriate forbearance is in place for those who have used government lending schemes and already started to repay their loan without being able to open fully.
“An extension of the VAT deferral scheme and the 100% Business Rates relief for eligible businesses should also be considered given the length of the delay and the impact on hospitality and leisure firms.”
Holiday booking company TUI has cancelled more trips to Greece, Spain and Italy until July.
It is believed that the latest decision is a bid to avoid losing more money.
Jet2 cancelled all international flights and holidays up to 1 July and Easyjet is ‘reviewing’ its flights in the wake of traffic light chaos.
Research conducted last month by small business lender iwoca on the impact that existing COVID restrictions are having on small businesses, found that:
- Almost a third (32%) of small business owners are currently sacrificing customer numbers and one quarter (25%) of small businesses are making fewer sales.
- Being ‘COVID-secure’ is costing them time and money: Around 1 in 4 spend (21%) over an hour a day making sure that their workplace is ‘COVID-secure’, whilst almost a quarter (24%) have spent over £1,000 doing the same.
- Over 4 in 10 SME owners (41%) feel maintaining a ‘COVID-secure’ workplace is ‘significantly’ or ‘very significantly’ impacting how their business operates.
- Business owners continue to face financial concerns. Almost half (45%) of female business owners worry they won’t be able to afford paying themselves a salary in the next 6 months, compared to just over a third of men (37%).
Couples waiting to get married in England will be able to invite more than 30 guests to services and receptions from next Monday. Social distancing guidelines will remain in place and guests must remain seated at tables of no more than six. Dancing will remain forbidden.
The decision to lift the ban comes amid growing anger from the wedding industry that the limits remained in place while large crowds were allowed to gather for events such as Euro 2020 football matches.
Despite restrictions being pushed back to 19 July the Wimbledon finals will be played in front of capacity crowds, the Government has confirmed.
The women’s final takes place on 10 July and the men’s final on 11 July.
The Euro 2020 last-16 match at Wembley on 29 June as well as the semi-finals and final in July will be staged in front of a 50% capacity crowd – about 40,000.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “The only reason this delay is being introduced is because the Conservatives failed to secure the country’s borders and a new variant from overseas was allowed to take hold; and failed to put in measures like proper sick pay support and surge vaccinations when needed.
“The British people did their bit by supporting the vaccine programme and getting vaccinated, but they have been let down by ministerial incompetence and indecision.”