Coronavirus: 'Nothing is ruled out' on restrictions to fight virus, says PM

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged businesses to stand by their employees as the Government faced criticism from its own MPs for failing to support workers in the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Johnson told businesses the country would need them to bounce back after the crisis died down and urged them not to make the mass redundancies reported in recent days.

He said: “I say to business, stand by your employees, stand by your workers because we will stand by you.”

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And he announced the Chancellor Rishi Sunak would be announcing more measures for workers tomorrow.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (left) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (right) watch as Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a coronavirus news conference inside 10 Downing Street. Photo: Leon Neal/PA WireChief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (left) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (right) watch as Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a coronavirus news conference inside 10 Downing Street. Photo: Leon Neal/PA Wire
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty (left) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (right) watch as Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks during a coronavirus news conference inside 10 Downing Street. Photo: Leon Neal/PA Wire | pa

It came after a Tory former business secretary warned firms are making “irreversible” decisions.

Greg Clark insisted businesses are “facing a crisis” as revenue is “collapsing”, and he added the Government’s £330bn guarantee scheme - which includes loans - provides “no reason to keep staff employed”.

He said “large numbers of people will be unemployed” if the Government does not act immediately, with the MP suggesting the nation should be “paying the wages” of people for the next few weeks in order to prevent redundancies.

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Conservative former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith also suggested changing benefit rates and reducing waiting times to offer assistance to people via Universal Credit, with the Government saying it as looking at “all the options”.

Asking an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Clark said of businesses: “With revenue collapsing and no knowledge of when normal trading can resume, they see no choice but to lay off workers now.”

Mr Clark said all employers have an account with HMRC to pay tax for employers through pay as you earn (PAYE).

He explained: “The monthly wage bill is known to HMRC. Instead of firms paying PAYE to the Government, that flow should now be reversed with the nation paying the wages of people for the next weeks if, and only if, they continue to employ their staff.

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“Separate arrangements would need to be made for the self-employed but at a stroke, this would save people’s jobs, save businesses and put an immediate end to the risk of contagion and help save the economy.”

It comes as the death toll for the virus in the UK reach 137, five of those have been in Yorkshire.

The total number of cases recorded in Yorkshire so far is 105.

Mr Johnson thanked everyone for the “huge efforts that the country is making” as he urged businesses to stand by their employees.

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He said his message to companies is “really think very carefully before you start laying off your staff”.

He added: “We do want to stand behind good companies, we do want to make sure people recognise that if they stand behind their staff, they should stand behind their staff, because we in the Government are going to stand behind British firms.”

But he stressed that “nothing is ruled out”, suggesting tougher restrictions on movement could be introduced if people failed to comply with advice.

“I’m conscious as the days have gone by that people will want to know how long we’re expecting them to keep it up,” he said.

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“I think, looking at it all, that we can turn the tide within the next 12 weeks and I’m absolutely confident that we can send coronavirus packing in this country.”

Meanwhile, the death toll in Italy rose to 3,405, overtaking the total number of deaths in China.

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