Everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 in England could be given £500 ($800) as infection rates remain at a worryingly high level despite strict lockdown measures.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that restrictions may have to remain in place until the summer, as EU leaders discussed tighter travel restrictions for Europe’s internal borders.
Mr Johnson said it was “too early to say” when national lockdown could be lifted, adding that the country was seeing the impact of the new variant, which “does spread very fast indeed.”
“There will be more to come,” he told the public on Wednesday, calling the record-breaking daily death toll “appalling”.
More than 1,290 new UK coronavirus deaths were reported on Thursday and 37,892 cases, following a pandemic high of 1,820 deaths on Wednesday. It brings the UK to 94,580 deaths and more than 3.5 million cases.
The government’s chief scientific adviser said on Wednesday that some British hospitals resemble a “war zone” due to the influx of coronavirus patients following the spread of the highly contagious new variant.
The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) proposed the $800 payment after government polling revealed that only 17% of people with symptoms are getting tested to avoid self-isolation and being prevented from working, according to an official policy paper seen by The Guardian.
The universal payment is the “preferred position” of the DHSC and would cost up to £453 million ($800 million) a week, 12 times the cost of the current system, according to the 16-page document.
The paper, dated January 19 and marked “Official Sensitive”, also proposes that police should be given access to health data for the first time to crack down on quarantine breaches.
It comes as June’s Glastonbury Festival was cancelled and health workers and staff struggle to cope with the mutant strain of COVID-19 enveloping the UK.
UK government borrowing soared further in December on emergency action to support the British economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic, official data showed Friday.
Borrowing last month hit £34.1 billion ($60 billion), a record for December, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement. The figures mean that total public debt officially stands at 99.4 per cent of gross domestic product, the highest level in decades.
It comes calls grow in the European Union to close internal borders to all but essential travel.
EU leaders at a virtual summit Thursday discussed the travel ban as part of efforts to slow and detect the spread of new coronavirus variants.
Their gathering came as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said there was a “very high” probability of strains with much higher infectivity propagating in the 27-country bloc.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said such a step would be “the last resort”.
The goal first is to bring down the high infection rates in all EU countries, she said, noting that “if a country with a rate perhaps twice as high as Germany opens all its shops and we still have them closed, then of course you have a problem”.
If that is not possible, border controls “cannot be completely ruled out,” she said.
Belgium is keen for a ban on European travel during its February and March holidays, while Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said his country supported German proposals “for stricter entry controls and testing requirements to keep virus mutations out”.
The variants remain a tiny proportion of overall cases in most of the EU, and health officials race to deliver vaccinations before the mutants dominate.
Portugal was serving as an early warning. Its government on Thursday ordered schools closed for two weeks because of the rapid spread of the British variant. Prime Minister Antonio Costa said it accounted for 20 per cent of infections and could make up 60 per cent as soon as next week.