UPDATED: UK seeks to avoid national lockdown to stop unemployment in millions, minister says

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is seeking to avoid a full national lockdown to prevent unemployment soaring into the millions, Environment Secretary George Eustice said on Thursday.

“I’ve not seen any projections of 4 million but certainly we know that there are some 700,000 extra people that are already unemployed as a result of this, and yes you know the projections are, that there are going to be economic impacts,” Eustice told Sky.

Britain’s Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in July that unemployment would peak at 11.9% in the final quarter of 2020 under its central economic scenario, equivalent to just over 4 million people, before averaging 3.5 million in 2021.

In a more negative scenario, unemployment would average 4 million through 2021.

The Bank of England has forecast that unemployment will rise to around 2.5 million by the end of this year.

Johnson urged the British people on Wednesday to obey rules imposed to tackle a rapidly accelerating second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, cautioning that otherwise a tougher lockdown could follow.

Hours after Eustice’s statement, British health minister Matt Hancock introduced more coronavirus restrictions on Thursday across a wider area of England, including the northern city of Liverpool, extending a tighter regime to try to stem rising COVID-19 cases.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed to people on Wednesday to adhere to the rules, repeating his desire to not only protect public health but to also keep the economy going.

Earlier this week, the government put much of northeastern England under further restrictions.

“I am today extending these measures that have been in place in the northeast since the start of this week to the Liverpool city region, Warrington, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough,” Hancock told parliament.

He said he understood concerns about pubs and restaurants, many of which have been hurt by the introduction of a 10 p.m. curfew in England, Scotland and Wales to try to reduce the second wave of coronavirus cases.

“Our hospitality industry provides so much colour and life in this country,” he said.

“And we will do whatever we can to support them while acting fast to keep this virus under control. I know that these measures are hard, and that they are yet another sacrifice.” 

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