Coronavirus: Bars, pubs and restaurants to close as government announces grant to pay wages

Boris Jonson announced today that the government was forcing all bars, pubs and restaurants to close, while chancellor Rishi Sunak said that the government would set up a grant to pay the wages of workers.

By Lloyd Bent
Friday, 20th March 2020, 9:30 pm

In today’s daily coronavirus press conference (March 20) the Prime Minister said: “We are telling cafes, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight as soon as they reasonably can and not reopen tomorrow.”

The move also covered hospitality, retail and leisure business including cinemas, theatres, gyms, leisure centres, and nightclubs. Takeaways will still be allowed to operate.

Johnson added: “People may be tempted to go out tonight. Please don’t.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street, London. PA Video/PA Wire

Owners of the businesses affected had previously criticised the government for not forcing them to close and simply advising that people stay away, which meant that insurance could not be claimed to cover for lost income.

This had caused a number of business owners to fear that they would be unable to pay their staff wages, and would have to lay people off.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the government would provide a “job retention grant” to “any business, small or big” in order to ensure that workers’ wages can be paid and they can be kept on the payroll rather than laid off, even if they are unable to work.

Mr Sunak explained that the government will pay 80% of wages for employees not working, up to £2,500 a month.

He said that the scheme would be in place by the end of April, and that the wages that companies applied for grants to cover could be backdated to March 1.

The grants will be open “for at least three months” and there is “no limit on the funding available for the scheme”, Sunak said.

The chancellor also added that no businesses would have to pay VAT until the end of June, and that any loans taken out for business interruption would have no interest charged on them for 12 months.

Meanwhile, measures have been put in place t protect the self-employed, including allowing them full access to Universal Credit. Self assessment tax returns will also not be due until January 2021, Sunak said.