LONDON (AP) – Britain announced Â£ 1 billion ($ 1.3 billion) in grants and loans to help the hospitality industry survive the onslaught of the omicron variant of COVID-19, relinquishing in the days of pressure from pubs, restaurants and other businesses that have seen their revenues plunge following public health warnings.
Businesses in the hospitality and leisure industries in England will be eligible for one-off grants of up to Â£ 6,000 each. An additional Â£ 100million will be given to local governments to support businesses in their regions affected by the surge in COVID-19 infections caused by the new highly transmissible variant.
Pubs and restaurants have reported a wave of cancellations during the crucial Christmas season as people avoid public events and workers are forced to self-isolate, leaving places understaffed. Many theaters and museums have also closed.
“With the increase in cases of omicron, people are rightly taking more care in their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, recreation and culture sectors in what is generally the period. busiest of the year, “Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. âThis is why we are taking immediate action. “
The business plunge came after England’s chief medical officer told the public to limit their social contact and prioritize the events they most want to attend this holiday season. The message came as COVID-19 infections reached the highest levels ever, prompting fears that hospitals and other emergency departments were overwhelmed.
Business groups, including the UK Chamber of Commerce, the Federation for Small Businesses and UKHospitality, have asked the government for help.
While government science advisers have recommended new restrictions on business and social interactions, the government has been reluctant to order a lockdown in part because of the cost to public money.
Instead, Johnson is betting that vaccines will be his savior, urging everyone to receive booster shots to slow the spread of the omicron.
Many governments in Europe and the United States face similar dilemmas over how difficult it is to cope with omicron, which scientists say spreads more easily than other strains of coronavirus, including delta , which itself has led to outbreaks in many parts of the world. Early evidence suggests that omicron may also produce less severe disease – although experts warn it’s too early to tell – and that it may better escape vaccine protection.
Even though it’s milder, the new variant could still overwhelm healthcare systems due to the sheer number of infections. Confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the UK rose 60% in one week as omicron overtook the delta as the dominant variant.
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