UK orders widespread closures in move against coronavirus

Pubs, restaurants and gyms shut as aid announced and public compassion urged

Boris Johnson told all Britain's pubs, restaurants and gyms to close on Friday night and not to reopen on Saturday as the country's death toll from coronavirus reached 177. He said the closures, which also apply to cafes, cinemas, nightclubs, leisure centres, betting shops, casinos, and bingo halls, would save lives by reducing pressure on the National Health Service (NHS).

"We are taking away the ancient, inalienable right of the free-born people of the United Kingdom to go to the pub – and I can understand how people feel about that. But I say to people who do go against the advice that we are getting from our medical and scientific experts that you are not only putting your own life and the lives of your family at risk, but you are endangering the community and you are making it more difficult for us to get on and protect people's lives and the NHS, " he told reporters in Downing Street.

“ . . . What we are saying is the risk is that they will become vectors of the disease for older relatives with potentially fatal consequences. That’s why we are taking the steps we are taking.”

Salary at 80%

Chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak announced at the same press conference that the British government would pay 80 per cent of the salary of any worker who is furloughed rather than made redundant, up to a maximum of £2,500 (€2,700) a month. The scheme will be backdated to March 1st and will continue for at least three months and Mr Sunak said there was no limit to the amount of money the government was willing to spend on the scheme.


“Of course, employers can top up salaries further if they choose to. That means workers in any part of the UK can retain their job, even if their employer cannot afford to pay them, and be paid at least 80 per cent of their salary,” he said.

Mr Sunak is also deferring the next quarter of VAT payments for businesses until the end of the financial year, which he said amounted to a direct cash injection of £30 billion. A Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan will be available to businesses interest-free for the next 12 months and the chancellor urged businesses to look carefully at the support available from government before laying off any of their workers.

Gig economy

He promised an extra £7 billion through the welfare system, including extra support for the self-employed and those who work in the gig economy. Mr Sunak described the supports as unprecedented measures for unprecedented times.

“Now, more than any time in our recent 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 business can do, but by the individual acts of kindness we show one another. The small business who does everything they can not to lay off their staff. The student who does a shop for their elderly neighbour. The retired nurse who volunteers to cover some shifts in their local hospital,” he said.

“When this is over, and it will be over, we want to look back at this moment and remember the many small acts of kindness done by us and to us. We want to look back at this time and remember how we thought first of others and acted with decency.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times