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Boris Johnson: ‘We are engaged in a war against the virus’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson has told senior ministers that Britain is “engaged in a war against coronavirus” as Chancellor Rishi Sunak prepared to turn the spending taps on to support the economy in the fight.

The prime minister, holding Cabinet in Downing Street this morning, warned his colleagues that there would be “hugely challenging times”.

The comments come after Mr Johnson said everyone in the UK should avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others to curb the spread of the illness.

British nationals are also now being advised to avoid all non-essential foreign travel to tackle the spread of coronavirus.

“We are engaged in a war against the disease which we have to win,” Mr Johnson told the Cabinet this morning.

“The government must rise to the challenge of supporting businesses through what will be hugely challenging times,” he added.

Cabinet was followed by the first meeting of the Economic and Business Response Committee chaired by the Chancellor.

At the meeting, the committee discussed government support for businesses affected by COVID-19, including urgent progress on delivering the £12 billion of measures in last week’s Budget.

Measures include:

  • Reimbursing small and medium-sized employers across the UK for up to two weeks’ statutory sick pay for each employee absent due to COVID-19
  • Extending business rates cuts so that 900,000 small businesses in England will pay no rates at all in 2020/21, to help them manage financial pressures created by COVID-19
  • Providing £2.2 billion funding for one-off grants of £3,000 to around 700,000 small businesses in England
  • A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to be launched shortly to support businesses in all parts of the UK to access £1 billion of additional bank lending
  • A dedicated HMRC helpline to enable UK businesses in financial distress to discuss deferring tax bills where necessary.

The committee agreed that further measures would be taken as the situation develops.

The prime minister also announced a reshuffle in ministerial structures to coordinate, prioritise and respond to the coronavirus pandemic across government.

Four new implementation committees focusing on health, public sector preparedness, economy and international response, will feed into a new daily C-19 meeting, which will be chaired by Mr Johnson.

The C-19 meetings will “monitor progress and refine the measures” agreed by Cobra meetings.

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