UK bolsters economic support as England goes into lockdown

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Traffic and people pass over Westminster Bridge with a fog shrouded Houses of Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower, known as Big Ben, hidden behind, on the first day of Britain's second lockdown designed to save its health care system from being overwhelmed by people with coronavirus, in London, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. Britain joined large swathes of Europe in a coronavirus lockdown designed to save its health care system from being overwhelmed. Pubs, along with restaurants, hairdressers and shops selling non-essential items closed on Thursday until at least Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON – The British government and the Bank of England joined forces Thursday to provide further support to an economy facing a difficult winter following the imposition of new coronavirus lockdown measures.

Soon after the central bank increased its monetary stimulus by a bigger than anticipated 150 billion pounds ($195 billion), the government extended its salary support program through March, a move welcomed by employers and employees in firms that have had to close as a result of the heightened restrictions and face depressed demand when they are allowed to reopen.

Later, Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered a slew of bleak virus-related statistics to explain the need for the new tighter measures. His point was clear: the financial support is there — follow the rules.

“I know many of you are anxious, weary and quite frankly fed up with the very mention of this virus,'' Johnson said at a news conference.

The extension of the furlough program, which sees the government pay 80% of the wages of people retained by firms, up to 2,500 pounds a month, comes on the day that England is back in lockdown and the other U.K. nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — live under heightened restrictions.

Like others in Europe, the U.K. has seen a sharp spike in new coronavirus infections recently. Johnson said the average daily number of new cases was now 22,398 against 9,716 a month ago. That's led to big increases in the number of people needing hospitalization, and in those dying. On Wednesday, the U.K. recorded another 492 virus-related deaths, the highest daily number since May, taking the overall death toll to 47,742, Europe's highest.

The Job Retention Scheme, which was introduced alongside the national lockdown in March and helped keep a lid on unemployment, was due to expire at the end of October and to be replaced by a less generous program. However, it was reinstated on Saturday when the government abruptly announced another lockdown for England to last until Dec. 2.

The lockdown will see millions of workers going idle once again as it requires all non-essential venues such as pubs, restaurants, and stores selling items like books, clothing and sneakers, to close. Support for self-employed workers was also made more generous.