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Britain Offers a Plan for Jobs, but Braces for a Wave of Layoffs

Britain Offers a Plan for Jobs, but Braces for a Wave of Layoffs


Britain Offers a Plan for Jobs, but Braces for a Wave of Layoffs

Inside the British government’s 30 billion pound ($37.8 billion) plan to “protect, support and create jobs” in the wake of the pandemic, there are signs the leadership has already conceded that sweeping layoffs are inevitable.Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the Exchequer, said this week that nearly a billion pounds would be spent hiring a small army of “work coaches” to help the newly unemployed, while he announced new measures to coax people back to work and revive spending in some of the economy’s hardest-hit industries.Within 24 hours of the announcement, two of the nation’s largest retailers, the pharmacy chain Boots and the department store John Lewis, said they would be cutting more than 5,000 jobs. Over the course of the week, employers announced that as many as 8,450 jobs were slated for redundancy.The swiftness and scale of the layoffs illustrate the challenge the British government faces as it changes its approach to tackling the economic fallout of the pandemic. Four months ago, the chancellor said he would do “whatever it takes” to see the British economy through the worst of the crisis. The cost of those programs announced in March is expected to reach £160 billion.Other countries are in a similar bind. In the United States, additional money for workers laid off during the pandemic ends this month, and the extension of forgivable loans to small business will end in the fall. But the White House and Congress are at odds over how much more support is needed and how soon. In New Zealand, two-thirds of workers have benefited from a wage subsidy program, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it would end in September ahead of an election. In France, where more than eight million people have benefited from a furlough program, the government is planning to extend the payments for another year or two, the labor minister said.The British government’s focus is on shifting the spending back to the private sector by reopening business and encouraging the people who saved money while shops, restaurants and other face-to-face services were closed to spend again and drive the economic recovery.Mr. Sunak, Britain’s chief finance minister, has already started the process of winding down the emergency levels of stimulus from earlier in the year and warned that the scale of job losses ahead would be “significant.” Since March, the Treasury has paid a substantial portion of the wages of 9.4 million workers, but Mr. Sunak was adamant that the program would end in October.“If you’re asking me can I protect every single job, of course the answer is no,” Mr. Sunak told the BBC on Thursday. “Is unemployment going to rise, are people going to lose their jobs? Yes, and the scale of this is significant. We are entering one of the most severe recessions this country has ever seen.”By the time the furlough program ends in October, the government plans to have an additional 4,500 work coaches stationed around the country to give unemployed people receiving government benefits one-on-one support to find local jobs. Eventually 13,500 coaches will be hired at an estimated cost of £895 million, doubling the current total. This is even more hiring than in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, when the unemployment rate peaked at 8.5 percent in 2011. Then, job center staff was increased by 10,000.The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned on Tuesday that even without a second pandemic wave, Britain’s unemployment rate could rise to 11.7 percent by the end of the year, from 3.9 percent.The government has managed to hold back a surge in the unemployment rate, such as the kind seen in the United States and Canada, because more than one million employers have taken part in the furlough program and kept staff on the payroll. But there are concerns the dam could break when the measure is replaced with a one-off £1,000 bonus to employers for each furloughed staff member brought back to work through January.That proposal is already being questioned, inside and outside of government. Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said in a presentation on Thursday that the majority of these bonuses would probably go to companies that would have brought back workers regardless, rather than encouraging employers to bring back even more workers.And Mr. Sunak had to go through the formal process of issuing a ministerial direction to order the British tax authorities to go ahead with the bonuses after their top civil servant questioned “the value for money” and efficiency of the proposal. The chancellor has acknowledged his coronavirus response has been focused on blunt tools to reach as many people as fast as possible.For several large employers, deep cuts were already underway. On Monday, Pret a Manger, a big chain of coffee and sandwich shops, announced that it would permanently close 30 locations, a move that the BBC reported would result in the loss of 1,000 jobs. Reach, the publisher of The Daily Mirror and Daily Express newspapers, said on Tuesday that it was laying off 550 people, amounting to 12 percent of its work force.After Mr. Sunak’s statement in Parliament on Wednesday, the chief executive of Burger King UK said 5 to 10 percent of its restaurants would most likely not survive, leading to between 800 and 1,600 job losses. The next day, Boots said it planned to lay off more than 4,000 people, about 7 percent of its work force, and John Lewis said it would permanently close eight department stores, putting 1,300 jobs at risk.

Updated July 7, 2020

Is the coronavirus airborne?
The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?
A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?
The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

What is pandemic paid leave?
The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said the ending of the furlough program, confirmed by the new bonus plan, was badly timed and likely to have the unintended effect of prompting more layoffs.“It doesn’t motivate employers to wait and see over the next couple of months,” Rory MacQueen, an economist at the institute, said. “This motivates them to make a snap decision early.” Instead, the government should have kept the furlough program open and waited for its costs to go down as people returned to work, he added.Alongside the thousands of work coaches hired in job centers, Mr. Sunak said £40 million would be provided to finance a new job search support service by the private sector. It will focus on helping people who have been unemployed for less than three months find work.In response to those who have been underwhelmed by the Treasury’s plans, Mr. Sunak said this was just the second of three phases of economic stimulus, after the spring’s furlough relief. The third part is expected to be introduced in the fall, alongside a comprehensive spending review, another budget and independent forecasts on the economy by the Office for Budget Responsibility. Until then, the government will be watching the pace of the recovery as restrictions on travel and social distancing are relaxed.Activity is tentatively resuming. The Office for National Statistics said data showed a moderate increase in foot traffic on British high streets, although it remains about half of last year’s level. On Thursday, the government announced more plans to reopen businesses in the coming weeks, including indoor gyms and beauty salons. Travelers from more than 50 countries can now arrive in Britain without entering a two-week quarantine, though those restrictions are still in place for American visitors.But the leader of one of Britain’s largest unions said businesses and workers would face a cliff’s edge in October.“Our fear is that the summer jobs loss tsunami we have been pleading with the government to avoid will now surely only gather pace,” Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, said. “This was a statement by a chancellor preparing for mass unemployment.”

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