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Boris Johnson rules out furlough extension for high-risk groups as he warns some could be shielded again during local outbreaks

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson has ruled out extending the furlough scheme for people most at risk from coronavirus, despite warning the same group could be forced to shield again during local outbreaks in England.

The prime minister said individuals with long-term conditions that appear to make Covid-19 more dangerous will not be granted an extension of the programme, which supports up to 80% of an employee’s wages if they are unable to work.

It comes after Diabetes UK wrote to the UK Government stating people with underlying health complaints should have the right to continue working from home as lockdown restrictions are eased, or be given financial support if that is not possible.

Diabetes is among a range of conditions linked to an increased risk of developing severe symptoms of Covid-19, including heart disease and obesity.

Mr Johnson was challenged on the issue during Friday’s edition of People’s Prime Minister’s Questions by a woman from Fife, who said she had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 17 years ago.

The woman, who was identified only as Kirsty, asked the prime minister what his government is doing to support people who are in the high risk category if they are not able to work from home or safely in the workplace.

Mr Johnson, whose policy announcements on coronavirus do not directly affect the UK’s devolved administrations, said the “key thing” was to keep the prevalence of the virus “so greatly reduced that you don’t have to fear anymore”.

The Conservative leader predicted the country is going to have to “live” with Covid-19 and one of the challenges that presented was how to “make it work” for people with long-term conditions.

“I think that one of the concepts we’re going to have to get used to is the idea that when there are outbreaks, certain groups will need particular shielding and particular protection,” he said.

“I don’t want to do another national lockdown. It’s something that obviously theoretically we have to keep in reserve but big horizontal measures that affect the whole country, I think we’re moving beyond that.

“But also we need to be looking particularly at measures to shield particular groups, whether they are people with diabetes or other vulnerabilities.

“And so that is really how we’ll do it in the future. We’ll try to look after you and others in a more targeted and more local way.”

Mr Johnson backed measures announced by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, this week which will see employers paid a bonus for retaining furloughed staff when the scheme ends – but he said extending the programme would not be the right thing to do.

Mr Johnson added: “The best thing is to depress the incidence of the disease to such an extent that we can really protect everybody, and then take particular steps where necessary where there are local outbreaks to protect those with diabetes and other vulnerabilities.”

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