UK pledges $39bn to protect economy from coronavirus

Britain on Wednesday unveiled a 30 billion pound (39 billion dollars) economic stimulus plan on Wednesday to tackle the risk of a coronavirus recession.

The plan came hours after the Bank of England slashed interest rates in a double-barrelled response to the crisis.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s finance minister, Rishi Sunak, announced the plan as part of a debt-fuelled investment surge for the coming years that budget forecasters said was the biggest stimulus since 1992 after a decade of austerity.

Sunak said the world’s fifth-biggest economy was facing a “significant impact” from the virus, whose rapid spread has stoked fears of a global recession and shaken financial markets, even if the hit was likely to be temporary.

“Up to a fifth of the working age population could need to be off work at any one time. And business supply chains are being disrupted around the globe.

“I will do whatever it takes to support the economy,” Sunak said in an annual budget speech to parliament.

The 39-year-old former Goldman Sachs analyst, who has only been in the job for a month, said he would help companies facing a cash-flow crunch, including a year-long suspension of a property tax paid by smaller firms, and funding for sick pay.

He said companies and self-employed people would be able to defer tax payments and he relaxed sick pay qualification rules for workers and people on benefits.

Britain’s health system and other public services would receive an extra 5 billion pounds to help counter the spread of coronavirus.

No fewer than six people have died in Britain and 383 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, including a junior health minister from Johnson’s Conservative Party.

Johnson had hoped the first tax-and-spending plan of his new government would showcase his plans to direct investment towards poorer regions, where voters helped him to a big election victory in December.

However, with medical officials warning of an expected jump in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, Sunak had to fund new spending priorities. (Reuters/NAN)


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