Britain announced 1 billion pounds ($1.3 billion) in grants and loans to assist the hospitality industry in surviving the onslaught of the omicron variant of COVID-19, caving into days of pressure from hotels, restaurants, and other businesses whose income has plummeted as a result of public health warnings.
Businesses in England’s hospitality and leisure industries will be eligible for one-time awards of up to £6,000 each. A further 100 million pounds will be granted to local governments to help companies affected by the unexpected increase in COVID-19 infections caused by the highly transmissible new type.
Restaurants have reported a surge in cancellations over the Christmas season as consumers avoid public gatherings and workers are compelled to self-isolate, leaving venues with a staffing shortage.
“With the surge in omicron cases, people are rightly exercising more caution as they go about their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors at what is typically the busiest time of the year,’’ Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement. “That’s why we’re taking immediate action.”
The plunge in business came after England’s chief medical officer told the public to limit their social contacts and prioritize the events they most want to attend this holiday season. The message came as COVID-19 infections surged to the highest levels ever, raising concerns that hospitals and other emergency services may be overwhelmed.
While the government’s scientific advisers have recommended further restrictions on businesses and social interactions, the government has been reluctant to order a lockdown in part because of the cost to the public purse.
Because of the sheer number of illnesses, the new type might potentially overwhelm healthcare systems. Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom have increased by 60% in a week, as omicron has surpassed delta as the prevalent strain.