Boris Johnson will face questions from MPs on his coronavirus strategy after the Government announced an “unprecedented” £350 billion package of support to help businesses survive the crisis.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor Rishi Sunak vowed to do “whatever it takes” to buoy the economy, as the number of people thought to have Covid-19 in the UK rose to 55,000 and the death toll climbed to 71.
Measures unveiled by Mr Sunak on Tuesday evening included government-backed loans worth £330 billion – equivalent to 15% of GDP – to help businesses which need access to cash, and a package of tax cuts and grants worth more than £20 billion.
Warning that “never in peacetime” had the UK “faced an economic fight like this one”, he also announced plans for three-month mortgage holidays for homeowners suffering outbreak-related difficulties.
The package comes after the public was told to avoid all non-essential contact and travel, while the elderly and those with underlying conditions were told they would have to stay home much more.
In other developments:
– The most senior judge in England and Wales, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, decided no new trial should start in any Crown Court unless it is expected to last for three days or fewer.
– The Government announced that emergency coronavirus legislation would give the police powers to arrest and isolate people to protect public health.
– More major sporting events were postponed – including the French Open and the Euro 2020 football tournament.
– Hospitals were told to cancel non-urgent surgery and free up beds as they prepare for large numbers of Covid-19 patients.
– Pubs and restaurants were told they will be allowed to be turned into takeaways to help provide food for people in self-isolation due to coronavirus.
– Britons were advised against non-essential travel to anywhere in the world as the coronavirus crisis closed borders around the globe.
– Transport Secretary Grant Shapps authorised a temporary relaxation of the drivers’ hours rules to help deliver goods to stores across the country.
Mr Johnson will appear before the Commons when he takes Prime Minister’s Questions at noon, where 70-year-old Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will defy Government advice for people of his age group to reduce their social contact.
Mr Corbyn urged the Government on Tuesday evening to go further in its financial assistance by suspending home rental fees and ban evictions of tenants during the coronavirus crisis.
Earlier, the PM warned Covid-19 is so “dangerous” that without drastic action it will “overwhelm the NHS”, and said more “extreme measures” may be needed to protect lives in the future.
And he told a press conference that there were only “a few weeks” to make the ventilators the NHS is expected to need.
It came after the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs it is hoped the death toll can be kept to less than 20,000 as he told of the huge amount of strain the health service will be under from Covid-19.
In a hearing of the Commons Health Select Committee, Sir Patrick was asked whether the expected death rate was one fatality for every 1,000 cases, which would mean that there are “potentially 55,000 cases” at present.
He said: “We’ve tried to get a handle on that in Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) and if you put all the modelling information together, that’s a reasonable ballpark way of looking at it.
“It’s not more accurate than that.”
NHS England chief executive Sir Simon Stevens told MPs the NHS would be “flat out” helping coronavirus patients for the next four to six months.
He has sent a letter to hospitals telling them to prepare for a large influx of patients requiring ventilation and ordered moves to cancel non-emergency surgery by April 15 at the latest, alongside the discharge of medically fit people to free up beds.