UK gov't to pay wages amid coronavirus crisis; pubs, restaurants to close

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government on Friday announced extraordinary measures to combat the rapidly evolving coronavirus pandemic -- shutting down almost every recreational activity including pubs and restaurants, and promising to step in and pay wages for workers furloughed by the crisis.

“We are collectively telling cafes, pubs, bars, restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can, and not to open tomorrow,” Johnson said. “We’re also telling nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centers to close on the same timescale.”

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He said that the measures will be reviewed in a month. Stores will be allowed to stay open, while restaurants will be allowed to provide takeout and delivery.

Additionally, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the government would step in to pay 80 percent of salaries of workers who are unable to work but are retained on the payroll rather than being let go by their employers.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks during a Coronavirus press conference, in Downing Street, London, Friday March 20, 2020. (Julian Simmonds/Pool Photo via AP)

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson talks during a Coronavirus press conference, in Downing Street, London, Friday March 20, 2020. (Julian Simmonds/Pool Photo via AP)

“For the first time in our history, the government is going to step in and help to pay people’s wages,” he said.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will cover 80 percent of the salary of retained workers up to a total of $2,875 a month. Employers can top up salaries further. It is part of a massive stimulus package to help deal with the crisis that has shut down most of daily life across Europe and in the U.S.

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A business-interruption loan scheme that provided interest-free loans for businesses has been extended to 12 months from six, while value-added tax (VAT) payments have been put off until the summer, according to the Times of London.

The package mirrors the enormous measures being taken in the U.S., where a $1 trillion package is on the table in the Senate as national governments scramble to reboot economies that have ground to a halt over the global crisis.

Johnson said the stepping in by the government to pay wages “has never been done before” but tried to inject cautious optimism into his remarks.

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“I am confident that, in time, the U.K. economy is going to bounce back. Of course it is,” he said. “But I must be absolutely clear with you: the speed of that eventual recovery depends entirely on our ability, our collective ability, to get on top of the virus now. “

As of Friday, the United Kingdom had 3,297 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 145 deaths, according to statistics from Johns Hopkins University.

Fox News' Greg Norman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.