“Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, I’ve made it clear that hard-working employers and employees should not have to suffer hardship unnecessarily,” said Chancellor Rishi Sunak. (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
RISHI SUNAK had been entrusted with the daunting task of “rewriting” his predecessor Sajid Javid’s budget agenda. The looming coronavirus threat, however, has made the chancellor embark on a much more vital ‘rewriting’ mission—“prioritise economic security”.
Sunak has ordered Treasury officials to chalk out plans to bolster public health response, businesses and the economy in his Budget on March 11.
Sources said some radical reforms could be put on the backburner. But, Treasury analysts believed there was no urgency for an economic stimulus, like the €3.6 billion (£3.14bn) package declared by Italy.
The chancellor’s primary focus would be on targeted measures to counter the outbreak’s adverse impact on public and commercial services.
Reports said Sunak would increase fund flow to the NHS, and allocate at least £40 million for vaccine development. He was also likely to announce buffers for small businesses, and additional support for frontline health workers.
Said Sunak: “We understand that people across the country are worried, but I assure you that we are taking firm action to support your families, your businesses and the public services on which you rely.
“We are well prepared for this global threat and, as the wider economic picture becomes clearer, we stand ready to announce further support where needed.”
The whole government is working closely together to tackle COVID-19. We are taking firm action to support your families, your businesses and the public services on which you rely.
The chancellor also tweeted that “we can all help fight this virus by washing our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds”.
While Sunak briefed the Cobra emergency committee on the economic situation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson drew up a “battle plan” to contain the outbreak.
The prime minister said: “Something like a mass epidemic is going to have all sorts of consequences and there is always the potential for an economic downside… and we are ready for that.”
The Bank of England, along with other central banks, announced that it would “ensure all necessary steps are taken to protect financial and monetary stability”.
Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development termed coronavirus the “gravest threat” to global economy after the Great Recession, adding that it could cut its growth projections by half.