The brand new and extra transmissible omicron variant threatens to be a tsunami for the NHS and the British economic system. Reluctantly, the UK authorities handed new “plan B” COVID restrictions, requiring masks to be worn in retailers and public transport, with a diktat to do business from home if potential. The devolved administrations have gone additional, together with inserting limits on indoor and outside gatherings.
To this point, one other nationwide lockdown has not been introduced. However the prime minister, Boris Johnson, has warned that additional restrictions could also be forthcoming a while after Christmas Day, if the variety of omicron circumstances and hospitalisations get uncontrolled.
But whereas the federal government is deliberating on whether or not – or when – to impose new COVID restrictions, the general public seem like one step forward. Issues about omicron have led to a dramatic fall in high-street footfall on the historically busiest time of the yr. Hospitality has been particularly hit, with bookings for Christmas events and lunches cancelled and omicron in all probability additionally affecting the sector’s meals provide chain. Companies within the sector are estimated to have misplaced 40% to 60% of their commerce in December.
In response, the chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has introduced an emergency help package deal of £1 billion for enterprise, with a give attention to the leisure and hospitality sector. These companies can apply for money grants of as much as £6,000, whereas there’s additionally some help to cowl employees sick pay.
Whereas welcome, nevertheless, this package deal is unlikely to be ample. Many pubs and golf equipment might be anticipated to soak up this kind of income (and extra) in a night or over a weekend – particularly in the course of the festive interval. There isn’t any furlough scheme for displaced staff within the sector or help for these on zero-hour contracts, whose hours will likely be diminished attributable to falling demand. There’s additionally no help for the retail sector.
If omicron is as extreme as some projections recommend, then a post-Christmas lockdown could be very a lot on the playing cards. If that occurs, extra authorities help will have to be forthcoming. But it would come too late for the hundreds of companies and livelihoods which are already scuffling with the influence of the brand new variant, so it might have been wiser for the federal government to do extra for companies earlier.
Misapprehensions round public debt
Sunak is reportedly eager to ascertain his fiscal conservative credentials and has been one of the voices across the cupboard desk arguing towards additional COVID restrictions. However prioritising fiscal conservatism at current seems like a misunderstanding of the place we’re on this disaster.
The pandemic is a as soon as in a lifetime shock that requires daring and decisive motion on each well being measures and on the economic system. On this regard, the federal government will not be as fiscally constrained because the mainstream media typically portrays. Whereas authorities borrowing is at post-war highs, UK gilt yields are very low, which suggests the price of servicing any new debt (as a proportion of GDP) is negligible.
It is usually vital to emphasize that the federal government doesn’t function like a typical family. Treasury bonds or gilts are largely bought by the Financial institution of England, which is owned by the federal government despite the fact that it acts independently, so technically the federal government can by no means actually run out of cash. We additionally noticed how economies that took fast, powerful motion on COVID within the early levels of the pandemic carried out comparatively higher.
Failure to behave now, and decisively, on each COVID and the economic system, not solely threatens the long-term well being but additionally the wealth of the nation.