UK announces massive aid package for coronavirus-hit industries

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks and takes questions during a press conference in Downing Street regarding the coronavirus outbreak, on March 9, 2020. in London, England.

Alberto Pezzali – WPA Pool | Getty Images

The U.K. government has announced a raft of new financial measures to help businesses under strain from the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking at the government’s new daily press conference regarding the outbreak of coronavirus in the U.K., Finance Minister Rishi Sunak announced announcing £330 billion ($398 billion) of government-backed loans and guarantees

“We will support jobs, we will support incomes and we will support businesses … we will do whatever it takes,” he said.

“That means any businesses that needs access to cash …will be able to access a government-backed loan,” he said. Sunak noted that the government interventions in the economy being announced were “unimaginable” just weeks ago.

Calling the pandemic an “economic emergency” as well as a public health one, Sunak announced more help for the most affected sectors of the economy, including tax cuts and grants. 

Among the measures announced in the package, Sunak said smaller businesses would be able to access cash grants of up to £25,000 to see them through the crisis. He also said mortgage providers would also be able to provide a 3-month mortgage holiday to those in difficulty.

Sunak said the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), already under pressure before the coronavirus outbreak, would get “whatever” resources it needs.

British businesses and various sectors most at risk from the virus — in terms of its impact on consumer behavior and restrictions put in place on movement — have warned the government that they will need financial aid to survive the crisis. At most risk is the aviation and tourism sector, as well as the hospitality industry.

Like their global counterparts, these industries are facing an almost international shutdown as governments restrict their citizens’ activities to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The U.K. government has been accused of taking too cautious an approach to the outbreak; schools and universities are still open, unlike many of their European neighbors, and most businesses remain open.

On Monday, Prime Minister Johnson stepped up the U.K.’s advice to citizens, telling them to avoid all unnecessary social contact and to stop going to restaurants, clubs, pubs and theaters, although the government stopped short on an outright ban.

That left some businesses complaining that they would not be able to claim on their insurance policies for the loss of trade caused by the virus; the insurance industry responded that many businesses would not be covered anyway, even if the government forced closures.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that without “drastic measures” the virus would over-run the country’s health system, and didn’t rule out further restrictions. “We may well have to go further and faster in the coming days,” he said.2

The U.K’s aid package comes after similar measures in Italy, France and Germany. Sunak is due to address the House of Commons, the U.K.’s lower house of parliament, at 7 p.m. London time on the new financial measures the government will take to tackle the economic impact of the outbreak.

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