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UK announces aid for self-employed amid virus concerns

Announcement came as country's coronavirus death toll hit 578, an increase of 113 in 24 hours

Karim El-Bar   | 26.03.2020
UK announces aid for self-employed amid virus concerns


British chancellor of the exchequer announced Thursday a large package of support for the U.K.’s self-employed as the coronavirus outbreak continues to take its toll on the country’s economy.

The announcement by Rishi Sunak came as the U.K.-wide death toll from coronavirus rose by 113 in the past 24 hours, one of the largest jumps so far.

The Department of Health announced: “Across the U.K., there have been 104,866 concluded tests of which 93,208 were confirmed negative, and 11,658 positive.

“578 patients who tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) have sadly died.”

Sunak said the self-employed could now receive up to £2,500 ($3,000) per month in grants for at least three months.

The grant will be worth 80% of their average monthly trading profit over the last three years. The scheme will cover 95% of people who receive the majority of their income from self-employment.

“Self-employed people are a crucial part of the UK’s workforce who have understandably been looking for reassurance and support during this national emergency,” Sunak said.

“The package for the self-employed I’ve outlined today is one of the most generous in the world that has been announced so far. It targets support to those who need help most, offering the self-employed the same level of support as those in work.”

Tsunami’ of coronavirus patients

At a briefing for journalists at Downing Street earlier in the day, the prime minister’s spokesperson said Boris Johnson was hoping to get 750,000 to sign up for the National Health Service (NHS) volunteer scheme. Johnson announced the previous day that over 400,000 people had signed up in 24 hours.

The spokesperson also said the ExCel conference center in London, which is being converted into an emergency hospital called NHS Nightingale, would have 500 beds available by next week, and will eventually have 4,000 beds available.

The spokesperson refused to rule out that further emergency hospitals could be set up around the U.K.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers that represents NHS trusts, said London hospitals were facing a “tsunami” of coronavirus patients.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4 on Thursday morning, he said there is a struggle against the “explosion of demand in seriously ill patients.”

“They talk about wave after wave after wave. The words that are used to me are that it’s a continuous tsunami. As one said to me, it’s much bigger and large numbers with a greater degree of stretch than you can ever have possibly imagined.

He said the surge capacity at the ExCel center is filling up very quickly.

The situation was exacerbated by “an unprecedented absence rate” of up to 50% of staff falling ill in some trusts.

“London CEOs saying they urgently want a lot more of everything -- staff, ventilators, critical care capacity, personal protective equipment, testing capacity -- but they recognize that their job is to do absolutely the best with what they have got and that’s what they are focused on,” Hopson said.

UK leading the way in fighting virus

Downing Street also announced that the U.K. donated another £210 million to the international effort to find a coronavirus vaccine, the single largest contribution of any country in the world and on top of the £40 million Britain has already pledged.

Johnson said: “While our brilliant doctors and nurses fight coronavirus at home, this record British funding will help to find a vaccine for the entire world. The U.K. medics and researchers are at the forefront of this pioneering work.

“My call to every G20 country and to governments around the world is to step up and help us defeat this virus.”

Police powers

Further details about police powers to enforce social distancing were unveiled on Thursday.

Police can issue a fixed penalty of £30 to be paid within two weeks, after that point it will increase to £60. Second-time offenders will be forced to pay £120. Refusal to pay can result in prosecution in court that can impose an unlimited fine.

New powers for police to enforce the coronavirus lockdown have been published by the government and will allow officers to use force to make people go back home if they are out in breach of the emergency laws.

The Home Office said in a statement: “If an individual continues to refuse to comply, they will be acting unlawfully, and the police may arrest them where deemed proportionate and necessary.

“However, in the first instance, the police will always apply their common sense and discretion.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “The Prime Minister has been clear on what we need to do: stay at home to protect our NHS and save lives. All our frontline services really are the best of us and are doing an incredible job to stop this terrible virus from spreading.

“That’s why I’m giving the police these new enforcement powers, to protect the public and keep people safe.”

After emerging in Wuhan, China last December, coronavirus has spread to at least 175 countries and regions.

The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

The number of confirmed cases worldwide has now surpassed 521,000 while the death toll is above 23,500 and over 122,000 have recovered, according to data compiled by the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the rising number of cases, most who contract the virus suffer only mild symptoms before making a recovery.

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