THe is Crushilian Rhetoric is back. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns that “our collective destiny and our collective health have never in our history completely depended on our individual behavior.” As well as the new restrictions at the national level. Beginning September 24, bars and restaurants must close at 10 PM. More people will be required to wear masks; Work from home will be encouraged. All rules will be strictly enforced. With the exception of a vaccine or an experimental hack, Johnson said, these new restrictions will last for six months. Really merry Christmas.
Over the summer, the government tried to suppress covid-19 with local restrictions. She now believes that a change of approach is necessary. Britain counts more than 4,500 cases a day, up from just over 1,500 at the start of September, and the number of cases is increasing across the country. The number of hospitalizations is also increasing – of most concern in the North. Although the fatalities are still very low, it also appears to be heading in the wrong direction. The government hopes to avoid the worst elements of the first wave of the virus, whether by responding early to the high number of cases or by not tightening the screws with equal force.
The new measures have received enthusiastic support from the public. According to a YouGov poll, 78% of people believed the government was right to put them forward; Many believe it should go further. However, ministers are keen to wait to see the impact of previous restrictions – including the September 14 decision banning social gatherings of more than six people – before adding additional gatherings. Finally, things are less urgent than they were in the spring. Cases are increasing more slowly, treatment is improving, and although problems persist, the test-and-trace system is at least in place.
Thus the restrictions on trade are less severe. During the first shutdown, non-essential retail stores, bars and restaurants were all closed. However, the companies greeted the new measures with alarm. Returning to work from home will particularly affect transportation and hospitality. Retailers fear that turnout will be affected. A ban on socialization involving multiple families, which both Northern Ireland and Scotland have done, would be particularly harmful to bars and restaurants.
The government is also keen to reduce the cost of this wave to the Treasury. Since the early days of the pandemic, the two main components of the government’s economic response have been a job retention plan, under which it pays 80% of the wages of furloughed employees, and a package of cheap loans to convince companies. Both are set to expire in the next few weeks, with the major loan facility closed to new applicants on September 30, and the furlough program ending in October. At the start of September, the number of employees still on the scheme was estimated at 3 million employees Whitbread, which operates hotels and bars and has been making extensive use of the vacation scheme, announced on September 22 that it would make up 6,000 for a surplus in the coming weeks.
The extension of the application period for various lending packages was expected to be announced on September 23, but participants in the talks say it has been postponed, as the government wants to announce additional job support at the same time. Such as The Economist Going to the press, the Treasury seemed ready to announce a German-style short-time business plan, under which the government would increase the incomes of employees whose hours had been cut. While the Offshore Leave Scheme cost the Treasury around 40 billion pounds between April and mid-September, the bill for such a program would run into hundreds of millions of pounds a month.
Fall budget plans have been canceled. Restrictions to behavior, and with it the needs of the economy, are changing so rapidly these days that long-term planning looks like something from another era.■
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This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition, “It’s Winter.”