Rishi Sunak cuts short US trip due to Omicron crisis
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Rishi Sunak, 41, cut short his trip to California for discussions on how the Treasury can help the businesses cope with a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases. The economic hit to the industry has been profound with a survey of UKHospitality organisations revealing in the ten days to Tuesday, around 50 percent of Christmas bookings were cancelled and walk-in trade fell by a third on the previous ten days.
The news comes just as the UK confirmed a record-breaking 88,376 new coronavirus cases on Thursday.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer reportedly held remote meetings from the Golden State and will meet with more publicans and restaurant bosses after he touches down in Britain tomorrow.
The Richmond (Yorkshire) MP is expected to arrive back in the UK around lunchtime today.
Sunak has said the Government have “already stood ready and willing to support the country as required” and stressed his “immediate priority” is to make sure existing funding given to local councils “gets out the door to those who need it as quickly as possible”.
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But the Treasury and hospitality sector also appear to be highly reluctant to return to the furlough scheme.
A source said: “This is about seeing businesses through a difficult period.
“But it could all look very different in four weeks’ time.
“We don’t want to overcommit at this stage.”
Travel bosses also requested a meeting with Sunak over what they claim to be a “shutdown by stealth” and UKMusic contacted the Chancellor to voice their concern about having a “lockdown in all but name”.
However, the Times has claimed Ministers are privately furious with England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, 55, after he told the nation they should limit social contact in Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference.
One Whitehall source said Professor Whitty had been “freelancing” and had even “thrown a grenade” into the Government’s COVID-19 strategy.
Tory MPs, many of whom launched a large-scale rebellion against Boris Johnson, 57, over the Prime Minister’s ‘Plan B’ vaccine passport measures, also voiced their concerns about Professor Whitty’s comments.
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Watford MP Dean Russell, 45, told Whitty: “One of the other comments I’ve heard is people saying we’re prioritising Covid over other things… cancer, Covid over other serious issues.
Professor Whitty replied: “This is sometimes said by people who have no understanding of health at all but I don’t think it is said by anyone who’s serious, if I’m honest.”
He added: “The reality is, if you ask any doctor working in any part of the system they’ll say this, that what is threatening our ability to do cancer… is the fact that so much of the NHS effort, so many of the beds, are having to be put over Covid and we’re having to work in a less efficient way because Covid is there.”
Number 10 has also backed England’s chief medical officer as a “hugely respected and trusted public servant”.
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