Britain’s £30billion war chest to fight off global coronavirus pandemic

The Chancellor has pledged a £30billion coronavirus war chest as the outbreak was declared a pandemic.

The Budget boost included a £5bn NHS emergency fund as the UK’s virus death toll rose to eight and cases soared to 456.

As global shares fell £1trillion, Rishi Sunak vowed: “Whatever resources the NHS needs to deal with coronavirus, it will get.”

In a Budget hurriedly rewritten to tackle the coronavirus crisis, £30billion was ring-fenced to deal with the outbreak and its wider economic fallout.

The emergency package included £12bn of specific Covid-19 measures, split into £7bn to help ­businesses and families and £5bn for an NHS response fund.

Other pledges, such as welfare support and sick-pay changes, will amount to £18bn next year.


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It came just hours before the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic tonight.

The number of British cases soared to 456, with two further deaths taking the toll to eight.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Whatever resources the NHS needs to deal with coronavirus, it will get. We will protect our country and our people. We will rise to this challenge.”

Tonight a Cabinet minister was in self-isolation awaiting the results of a coronavirus test after coming into contact with Health Minister Nadine Dorries, who tested positive on Tuesday evening.

The FTSE 100 fell over 80 points and another £1trillion was wiped off global stock markets as coronavirus turmoil hit the markets.


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A recession this year is “quite possible” if the virus causes economic disruption, said the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The Bank of England cut its base rate from 0.75% back to the all-time low of 0.25% – which should lower borrowing costs but will hit returns on savings.

The Bank also announced £300billion of loans to help businesses battered by the pandemic.

Outgoing Governor Mark Carney said: “This is a big, big package.” A Cobra meeting chaired by the Prime Minister is expected to make the move officially today from the “contain” to the “delay” stage.

That is designed to hold back a steep rise in cases until late spring or summer, when winter pressure on the NHS has eased. It could include school closures, encouraging people to work from home and cancelling large public gatherings.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said cases were not expected to peak for several months, warning: “This is a marathon not a sprint.”

But a leading medic accused him and Boris Johnson of gambling with people’s lives for not moving sooner.

Dr Richard Horton, editor of medical journal The Lancet, said: “As one UK expert epidemiologist put it to me last night… it should have moved to more aggressive social distancing measures immediately.


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“Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson claim they are following the science. But that is not true. The evidence is clear. We need urgent implementation of social distancing and closure policies. The government is playing roulette with the public.”

Mr Hancock said emergency ­legislation to tackle the virus will be introduced to Parliament next week.

Today’s Budget was hastily rewritten as the scale of the outbreak unfolded. Workers eligible for statutory sick pay will be able to claim from day one, rather than the fourth day, if self-isolating over Covid-19.

Firms with fewer than 250 staff will have their extra costs refunded by the Government. Employees unable to claim statutory sick pay will be switched to a new Employment and Support Allowance or Universal Credit without visiting a JobCentre.

Councils in England will get £500million to help hard-up families hit by the virus – most of it expected to be spent on easing council tax bills.

Small firms will be spared paying business rates for a year to help them through a feared economic downturn.

Around 700,000 firms too small to benefit from the move will get £3,000.

Mr Sunak told the Commons: “What everyone needs to know is that we are doing everything we can to keep this country, and our people, healthy and financially secure.”


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The wider £18bn of spending will be aimed at schools, hospitals and the criminal justice system, and tax giveaways including freezing fuel and alcohol duties to keep the economy afloat as effects of the virus hit.

The latest patients to be killed by the virus in the UK were elderly and being treated for underlying health conditions – one in their 70s in Dudley, West Midlands, and the other in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.

A 53-year holidaymaker who died in Bali yesterday became the youngest British victim so far.

Six MPs were self-isolating after Nadine Dorries tested positive. The Commons and Whitehall were at the centre of an operation to trace anyone who had contact with the 62-year-old ex-nurse, who starred in I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2012.

Among those in quarantine was another Health Minister, Edward Argar, who had lunch with her last Thursday and was seen coughing in the Commons chamber on Tuesday.

Labour MP Rachael Maskell was advised to self-isolate after meeting Ms Dorries last week. She called for politicians to be allowed to vote without attending Parliament.

Mr Hancock insisted Westminster would resist a shutdown, saying: “The ability to hold the Government to account and to legislate are as vital in a time of emergency as in all times. Democracy is the foundation of our way of life.”

A plane carrying 142 British passengers from the virus-hit Grand Princess cruise ship off the coast of California landed at Birmingham Airport today.

Tonight’s football match between Manchester City and Arsenal became the first Premier League game to be postponed, after Arsenal stars came into contact with a confirmed case.

Mr Hancock met tech firm bosses to ensure people have reliable, up-to-date information about the virus.

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