Businesses brace as England and Scotland ramp up COVID-19 restrictions

Tom Belger and Saleha Riaz
·3 min read

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Firms are bracing for more restrictions across the UK, with “tougher measures” looming in England and first minister Nicola Sturgeon placing Scotland back in full-scale lockdown.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is due to announce new restrictions in England on Monday night, after saying there was “no question” stricter curbs were needed earlier in the day.

A Downing Street spokesman said the prime minister would set out “further steps” in a televised address at 8pm. He is reported to be planning a fresh nationwide lockdown. Details are yet to be confirmed, but the move could spell school closures, stricter stay-at-home and shielding orders, and the closure of non-essential retail in areas where they remain open.

Shops in parts of Yorkshire and the Humber, West and East Midlands, and north-west, south-west England that are currently in Tier 3 could be forced to close once more.

Goverment sources told PA the UK threat level would be raised to 5, the highest level, meaning stricter social distancing and a risk of healthcare services being overwhelmed. It is different to the tiers system.

Meanwhile first minister Nicola Sturgeon on Monday said Scots would be forced to stay at home by law from Tuesday in areas currently under its highest level of restrictions, which cover most of the nation. Essential shopping, exercise and care are among the exemptions.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arrives to attend the debate at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, on the trade and co-operation agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Photo: PA

Companies were told to look again at remote working wherever possible, with the Scottish government considering whether more regulations are needed on business.

Scotland’s measures, which also include school closures, will apply for at least the whole of January to stop COVID-19 cases surging as they have in London and south-east England.

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Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster said the four UK nations would hold a call at 5pm on their latest measures, and the executive would meet immediately afterwards.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said ahead of the announcements firms needed a “huge amount” of additional support as tier restrictions become “harsher.”

“We already have a situation where the development of business support measures is not keeping pace with the intensification of tier restrictions,” he told Yahoo Finance UK.

“To get small firms to the point where normality returns, hopefully later this year, we need to see support returning to the levels of last spring.

“That means a significant uprating of cash grants, greater access to emergency finance, support for excluded groups and extension to the VAT deferral and business rate holiday periods.”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street, in London, Britain October 7, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
UK prime minister Boris Johnson plans tougher coronavirus curbs. Photo: REUTERS/John Sibley TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The UK government has been under heavy pressure from scientists, health officials and Britain’s political opposition to impose tighter restrictions as cases spiral.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has said the virus is “clearly out of control” and urged Johnson to impose immediate curbs, backing school closures on Monday. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey also demanded a lockdown in England on Monday.

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The latest official figures show hospital patient numbers with COVID-19 surged by a third between Christmas Day and 2 January.

The NHS began to roll out AstraZeneca’s and Oxford University’s low-cost, easily transportable jab on Monday, but it is likely to be some time before the vaccination programme starts to curb infection rates.

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