London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reiterated his stand to avoid a national lockdown against the COVID-19 pandemic, saying his government will work hard to protect jobs and put the country in a better position for an economic recovery.
“I don’t believe a full lockdown is the right course,” Xinhua news agency quoted Johnson as saying at a press briefing on Thursday at Downing Street.
“To all those enduring these restrictions in all parts of the country, I want to repeat my thanks for your bravery, for your patience, and for your public spirited-ness,” the Prime Minister said.
Johnson said the current restrictions are working and that virus reproduction number, known as the R number, is half its “natural rate”.
His statement came after Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced big changes to the Job Support Scheme set to replace furlough in November in a bid to support businesses affected by the pandemic in England’s “high alert” Tier Two areas.
Under the revised scheme, employers will pay less and staff can work fewer hours before they qualify for project.
Among the measures, instead of employees working at least a third of their hours to qualify for support, they will now have to work just one day a week.
Meanwhile, employers will now only pay 5 per cent of wages toward the cost of hours not worked.
Sunak also announced that a new grant scheme will open for businesses, including hospitality in Tier Two areas, for up to 2,100 pounds per month.
Joining Johnson for the press briefing, Sunak said: “Our plan for jobs will support British people and businesses wherever they live and whatever their situation… We will listen and respond to peoples’ concerns as the situation evolves.”
Also present at the press briefing, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said hospitalizations have dramatically increased from a month ago with more people going into intensive care and an increase in deaths.
The R number, which currently stands between 1.2 and 1.5, is half its natural rate, which shows masks and handwashing is working, said Vallance.
“But we need to do more,” he added.
The new three-tier COVID-19 alert system set out by Johnson came into force last week across England as the country struggles to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The alert system comprises three levels: “Medium”, “High” and “Very High” with the level being decided according to local infection rates.
The UK has so far reported a total of 813,451 coronavirus cases and 44,437 deaths.