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U.K. at ‘Critical Point’ in Virus Surge With London at Risk

Britain is at a “critical point” in the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be told on Monday, as concern mounts that a second lockdown may be needed to stop the renewed spread of the disease. With daily cases of the disease at the highest level since May, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that national restrictions could be reimposed unless people comply with rules that include limiting gatherings to six people.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has indicated that further support is needed to prevent large-scale business collapses and job losses. He is preparing to extend four loan programs that have already provided 53 billion pounds ($69 billion) of credit for companies through state guarantees, the Financial Times reported. The Treasury declined to comment.

The government reinforced that message by announcing that people in England who refuse an order to self-isolate could be fined as much as 10,000 pounds ($12,917). A new legal duty requires people to self-isolate if they test positive for coronavirus, or are traced as a close contact, starting Sept. 28. The government reported 3,899 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday following 4,422 on Saturday, fueling concern that the U.K. could follow the paths of Spain and France, where hospitalizations are rising again.

Johnson is anxious to avoid a second national lockdown after the first one saw the economy shrink by over a fifth and pushed government debt above 2 trillion pounds for the first time. The crisis has already cost almost 700,000 employees their jobs and the fear is that unemployment will surge when Treasury wage subsidies for millions of furloughed workers end next month, as currently planned by Sunak.

Johnson’s office on Sunday set fines for breaching self-isolation rules to start at 1,000 pounds, in line with the penalty for breaking quarantine after international travel. They could reach 10,000 pounds for repeat offenses and “egregious” cases. Those on lower incomes who face a loss of earnings as a result of going into quarantine will be eligible for a one-time support payment of 500 pounds.

U.K. at ‘Critical Point’ in Virus Surge With London at Risk, Bloomberg, Sep 21

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