UK: The British Government on Tuesday announced 1 billion Pounds ($1.3 billion) in grants and other aid to help the hospitality industry survive the onslaught of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, bowing to days of pressure from pubs, restaurants and other businesses that complain public health warnings have torpedoed the vital Christmas season.
Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will be eligible for one-time grants of up to 6,000 pounds ($7,954) each. An additional 100 million pounds ($133 million) will be given to local governments to support businesses in their areas hit by the sudden spike in COVID-19 infections driven by the highly transmissible new variant.
While industry groups welcomed the funding, many said it was too narrowly focused and more assistance would be needed if the surge in infections continues or the government imposes more restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday that he wouldn’t impose any new coronavirus restrictions before Christmas — but new measures could be coming after the holiday if Omicron continues to surge.
Pubs and restaurants have reported a wave of cancellations during the crucial Christmas season as people shun public events and workers are forced to self-isolate, leaving venues short of staff. Many theaters and museums also have closed their doors. The plunge in business came after England’s chief medical officer told the public to limit their social contacts and prioritize the events they most want to attend this holiday season. The message came as COVID-19 infections surged to the highest levels ever, raising concerns that hospitals and other emergency services may be overwhelmed.
Business groups including the British Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Business and UKHospitality have demanded government help.
While several organizations welcomed the Government aid, some big interest groups said so much damage had already been done that the support offered Tuesday was inadequate.
The Government’s scientific advisers have recommended further restrictions to slow the spread of Omicron, but Johnson has been reluctant to order a lockdown in part because of the cost to the public purse. The UK has already spent more than 350 billion pounds ($464 billion) fighting the pandemic, pushing public debt to 96% of gross domestic product, the highest since 1963.
– JAPAN TODAY