All pubs, bars and restaurants across the UK will be ordered to close tonight as the government increases its emergency measures to combat the spread of Covid-19, Boris Johnson announced this evening.
The draconian decision followed a meeting of officials and experts in an attempt to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed by patients suffering from Covid-19.
It had been widely expected that the announcement would initially apply only to London, which has a much higher proportion of cases than other parts of the UK, however the PM ordered all venues to close “as soon as they reasonably can”.
He also urged people not to attempt go for one last Friday night out, adding: “You may be tempted to go out tonight and I say to you please don’t, you may think that you are invincible – but there is no guarantee that you will get it.
“But you can still be a carrier of the disease and pass it on. We want you as far as possible to stay at home.”
The Prime Minister said all of the premises needed to close by Saturday morning, including cafés, pubs and restaurants, cinemas, gyms, nightclubs and leisure centres. He said hospitality venues would be allowed to open to provide takeout services only.
The move followed concerns that large numbers of people are ignoring government advice to avoid public places.
The government has also moved to protect employee wages. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said all employers would be eligible for grants to cover up to 80% of wages of people not working but being kept on payrolls. The relief available will be up to £2,500 a month per employee, just above the median income.
Grants to cover wages will be backdated until 1 March and will be available for at least three months, and the Chancellor also said there would be no limit to the amount of funding that will be available via the scheme as he unveiled what he called “unprecedented measures for unprecedented times”.
He added: “We will pay grants to support as many jobs as necessary.”
The Chancellor has also deferred the next quarter’s VAT payment, giving business until the end of the financial year to pay this bill as well as announcing that the Business Interruption Loan Scheme will be available from Monday and will be interest free for 12 months. The chancellor said his commitments were “unprecedented measures for unprecedented times” as he appealed to members of the public to support each other.
“The actions I’ve taken today represent an unprecedented economic intervention to support the jobs and incomes of the British people,” he said. “Unprecedented measures for unprecedented times.
“Now more than at any time in our history we will be judged by our capacity for compassion. Our ability to come through this won’t just be down to what Government or businesses do but the individual acts of kindness that we show each other.”
UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said: “This generous package will support our fantastic staff, is very welcome and additionally gives hope to those who have been laid off. This may have saved up to 1 million jobs, but we need it as soon as possible to ensure we can continue to trade.
“While VAT deferrals preserve some cash, we still face rent payments next week before the support is due to arrive. Banks and landlords need to do more to help us bridge the gap towards this generous Government support.
“Damage is being done now, so we need help now.”