Coronavirus: British PM Boris Johnson says country not out of the woods, as pubs are set to reopen

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on July 1, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG, AFP) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday (July 3) will tell Britons to act responsibly as the country's pubs prepare to reopen, warning he will act to shutter parts of the economy again if the coronavirus pandemic runs out of control.

Restaurants, hotels, cinemas and hairdressers will also be allowed to open their doors again on Saturday after three-and-a-half months of an economic lockdown aimed at containing the outbreak.

They will join non-essential shops, which were allowed back in June.

And in a further easement, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Friday will say that from July 10, people arriving in England from countries including Germany, France, Spain and Italy will no longer have to observe a two-week quarantine.

"We are not out of the woods yet," Mr Johnson will say at a press conference on Friday, according to a statement e-mailed by his office.

"The success of these businesses, the livelihoods of those who rely on them, and ultimately the economic health of the whole country is dependent on every single one of us acting responsibly. We must not let them down."

Mr Johnson is trying to jump-start the UK economy after the pandemic killed more than 43,000 people, pushing the country into what may be the worst recession in three centuries.

Earlier this week, the premier brought forward £5 billion (S$8.65 billion) of spending, pledging to "build, build, build" in an effort to revive economic activity, and next week, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak is due to unveil more measures.

Mr Sunak is focusing on preserving as many jobs as possible so that the economy is in the best place possible to bounce back.

His statement next week is likely to steer clear of wide-scale tax cuts and focus instead on a few targeted measures to help preserve jobs. Then in the fall, he will outline a bigger package of fiscal stimulus in a budget.

'TARGETED STRATEGY'

On Friday, Labour Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds will deliver her first major speech in the post, setting out four tests for Mr Sunak's statement, according to an e-mailed statement from the party.

She's previously called for an emergency budget rather than Mr Sunak's planned "summer statement".

Ms Dodds will say Mr Sunak's package must create and protect jobs, ensure any economic bounce-back extends across the country and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The chancellor should also pledge not to raise taxes or cut support for low and middle-income people during the recovery, according to Ms Dodds.

She will also call on Mr Sunak to extend the government's furlough program - due to end on Oct 31 - in areas where local lockdowns are needed and in sectors of the economy that are struggling to restart, saying "the reward for months of sacrifice cannot be a redundancy notice".

"As with the lifting of lockdown, what we have now is an exit without a strategy. Government must abandon its one-size-fits-all wind-down of the Job Protection and self-employed schemes," Ms Dodds will say.

"We need a targeted strategy that acknowledges that workers in struggling sectors cannot and should not be treated the same way as workers in sectors that are already back to full capacity."

QUARANTINE LIFTED

The government is paying 80 per cent of the wages for 9.3 million private sector jobs at a cost of £25.5 billion under the programme, which will begin to taper next month as companies take on more of the costs.

As ministers seek to reboot more of the economy and protect jobs in the tourism industry, Mr Shapps will unveil a list of countries and territories that the government considers safe enough to waive a requirement for arrivals in England to self-isolate, according to a statement from the Department for Transport.

Arrivals from Germany, France, Spain and Italy are no longer required to self-isolate from July 10.

A longer list of countries that will be exempt is expected to be published later on Friday, with news reports suggesting as many as 75 countries might be on it.

The provisions don't extend to people returning to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will set their own rules.

"Safety must remain our watch word, and we will not hesitate to move quickly to protect ourselves if infection rates rise in countries we are reconnecting with," Mr Shapps said in the statement.

Mr Johnson's government had been expected to announced the quarantine exemptions earlier this week, but ministers hinted at disagreements with the devolved administration in Scotland.

With the country emerging from lockdown, his government is still wary of a resurgence in coronavirus cases, and has pledged to deploy a "whack-a-mole" strategy to quash any localised outbreaks by having more targeted lockdowns.

The central English city of Leicester was placed under such provisions earlier this week.

'WILL NOT HESITATE'

When the pubs reopen, the government is keen to avert scenes such as on the country's beaches last week, when social distancing was abandoned as warm weather lured Britons in their thousands to the coast.

On Thursday, the Health Department published guidance for the hospitality sector to help with the government's test and trace programme.

Pubs, hotels and restaurants were told to collect the names and phone numbers of clients and retain them for 21 days so that they can be contacted if anyone at the venue is later identified as suffering from the virus.

"The virus is still with us and the spike in Leicester has shown that," Mr Johnson will say.

"If it starts running out of control again the government will not hesitate in putting on the brakes and re-imposing restrictions."

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