UK: Job support scheme extended as coronavirus deaths top 38,000

Chancellor prolongs furlough scheme until October as data highlights worsening death toll, with fears for care homes.

A man wearing a protective suit walks in central London, one of the UK's coronavirus epicentres [File: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE]
A man wearing a protective suit walks in central London, one of the UK's coronavirus epicentres [File: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE]

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has extended the government’s job retention scheme – the costly centrepiece of the United Kingdom’s attempts to mitigate the coronavirus hit to the economy – by a further four months until the end of October.

Speaking in Parliament on Tuesday, Sunak added that the funding would be kept at the rate which offers Britons 80 percent of their wages.

“Until the end of July, there will be no changes,” he said. “The scheme will continue [until October] but with greater flexibility to support the transition back to work.”

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which currently supports more than six million jobs, had been scheduled to expire at the end of June.

“Businesses have benefitted from the support the government has put in place,” Sunak said. “They have been able to retain their employees through using this scheme.”

Opposition politicians welcomed the move to extend the programme.

A day earlier, however, as Prime Minister Johnson set out a gradual plan to get the UK back to work, including advice on wearing homemade face coverings, his attempt to lift the coronavirus lockdown prompted confusion.

The government’s efforts to support the economy came as the COVID-19 death toll topped 38,000 as of early May, by far the worst yet reported in Europe.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Tuesday for England and Wales brought the UK’s official death toll to 38,289 as of May 3.

While different ways of counting make comparisons with other countries difficult, the figure confirmed the UK was among those hit hardest by a pandemic that has killed more than 285,000 worldwide.

Such a high UK death toll increases the pressure on Johnson: Opposition parties say he was too slow to impose a lockdown, introduce mass testing and get enough protective equipment to hospitals.

The data painted a grim picture in care homes, which have been hit hard by the virus.

“Care homes (are) showing the slowest decline, sadly,” ONS statistician Nick Stripe told BBC.

“For the first time that I can remember, there were more deaths in total in care homes than there were in hospitals in that week.”

The figures showed care homes now account for a third of all COVID-19 deaths in England and Wales.

The UK’s epidemic has highlighted how vulnerable some communities are.

On Monday, the ONS said men working in the lowest skilled occupations had the highest rate of death involving COVID-19, with 21.4 deaths for every 100,000 males.

Late last week, the ONS reported that Black people in the UK were more than four times as likely to die from coronavirus than white people. Those of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnicity also have a significantly higher chance of dying from COVID-19 than white people, even when adjusting for deprivation.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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