LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday reiterated his stand to avoid a national lockdown in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic, saying his government will work hard to protect jobs and put the country in a better position for an economic recovery.

“I don’t believe a full lockdown is the right course,” he told a press briefing at Downing Street.

“To all those enduring these restrictions… in all parts of the country, I want to repeat my thanks for your bravery, for your patience, and for your public spirited-ness,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the current restrictions are working and that virus reproduction number, known as the R number, is half its “natural rate”.

His statement came after British Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced big changes to the Job Support Scheme set to replace furlough in November in a bid to support businesses affected by the pandemic in England’s “high alert” Tier Two areas.

 

Under the revised scheme, employers will pay less and staff can work fewer hours before they qualify for project.

Among the measures, instead of employees working at least a third of their hours to qualify for support, they will now have to work just one day a week. Meanwhile, employers will now only pay 5 percent of wages toward the cost of hours not worked.

Sunak also announced that a new grant scheme will open for businesses, including hospitality in Tier Two areas, for up to 2,100 pounds (about 2749.4 U.S. dollars) per month.

Joining Johnson for the press briefing, Sunak said: “Our plan for jobs will support British people and businesses wherever they live and whatever their situation…We will listen and respond to peoples’ concerns as the situation evolves.”

Also present at the press briefing, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said hospitalizations have dramatically increased from a month ago with more people going into intensive care and an increase in deaths.

The R number, which currently stands between 1.2 and 1.5, is half its natural rate, which shows masks and handwashing is working, said Vallance.

“But we need to do more,” he added.

The new three-tier COVID-19 alert system set out by Johnson came into force last week across England as the country struggles to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The alert system comprises three levels: “Medium”, “High” and “Very High” with the level being decided according to local infection rates.

Another 21,242 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 810,467, according to official figures released Thursday.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus-related deaths in Britain rose by 189 to 44,347, the data showed.

To bring life back to normal, countries, such as Britain, China, Russia and the United States, are racing against time to develop coronavirus vaccines. 

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