What about renters? Ministers are accused of doing ‘nothing’ to protect tenants as Rishi Sunak announces three month mortgage holidays for homeowners amid fears coronavirus could put a MILLION people out of work within months

  • Rishi Sunak said homeowners in ‘difficulty’ will not have to make payments 
  • They will be eligible for a three month ‘holiday’ from paying back their mortgage
  • But Chancellor is under fire for failing to set out same level of help for renters 
  • There are growing calls for the same three month window to apply to tenants 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Ministers are facing furious demands to do more to help renters, the self-employed and those in the ‘gig’ economy today despite unveiling a £350billion coronavirus bailout. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has been accused of doing ‘nothing’ to protect those feeling the biggest impact from the lockdown to tackle the killer disease. 

There are warnings that a million people could lose their jobs within months as bars, restaurants and cinemas lose the overwhelming majority of their customers due to ‘social distancing’ measures.

But while the government announced a three-month mortgage ‘holiday’ for homeowners adversely affected by the crisis yesterday, there was no action to help tenants. 

Business Secretary Alok Sharma today insisted more measures were coming, but did not give any specific details about what they could include. 

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said more measures were coming today, but did not give any more details about what they could include

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the bailout package alongside Boris Johnson in Downing Street last night

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell called on Mr Sunak to protect renters, prevent evictions and enable rent holidays for those people not able to meet their costs’, including freezing or suspending utility bill payments.

He added: ‘There was nothing in the statement to protect renters.

‘Today in some of our constituencies, people were being laid off, they were losing their jobs and losing their incomes, and their livelihoods are being threatened.

‘People are worried and I’m just disappointed that today’s package of measures didn’t really appreciate the urgency and the gravity of the situation for those individuals and those families.’

The respected IFS think-tank said the bailout announced last night was ‘a substantial level of support’,  but warned it was ‘probably not well targeted at saving jobs’.

Rishi Sunak unveils business support measures worth hundreds of billions of pounds

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a raft of measures today designed to prop up an economy teetering under the pressure of coronavirus. They included:

  • Government-backed loan guarantees worth £330billion – equivalent to 15 per cent of GDP 
  • Treasury prepared to increase this with ‘as much capacity as required’
  • This money in two forms:  a new lending facility for large firms with Banks of England;
  • And for SMEs an extension of the Business Interruption Loan Scheme announced last week from £1.2million to £5million
  • Additionally there will be a 12-month business rate holiday for all firms in retail, leisure and hospitality sectors
  • Cash grants of up to £25,000 per business for small businesses with a ratable value below £51,000
  • Cash grants for 700,000 of the smallest businesses increased from £3,000 to £10,000 
  • A three-month mortgage holiday for homeowners 
  • A pledge to sit down with trade unions and business groups to discuss job protection

Director Paul Johnson said: ‘It will remain as expensive to pay people and if demand is down then jobs are likely to go.’

Mr Johnson said possible options would be cutting employer national insurance contributions, delaying increases to the National Living Wage, and boosting Universal Credit benefits. 

Labour’s Jess Phillips also questioned whether the Government’s statutory sick pay – for those in self-isolation attempting to quell the virus spreading further – was sufficient to live on.

The Government has been facing calls to increase the payment level from £94.25 a week – considerably less than many other European nations – and ensure there is support for the two million low-paid workers who are not eligible.

The Birmingham Yardley MP asked the Chancellor: ‘A simple question. Has he lived on that and could he live on that, as that’s what most of my constituents are currently having to live on?’

Mr Sunak sidestepped the question and focused on the Government’s response to helping those in need.

Fellow Labour MP Zarah Sultana further called on the Government to suspend home rental payments and ban evictions for those unable to pay.

Mr Sunak was also urged to introduce a ‘coronavirus universal basic income’ which would protect self-employed tradesmen and those on zero-hours contracts.

The Chancellor replied: ‘We’ve already taken steps to strengthen the safety net for the workers … we’re of course looking to do more in the employment support field.’

Measures unveiled by Mr Sunak last night included Government-backed loans worth £330 billion – equivalent to 15% of GDP – to help businesses which need access to cash, and a package of tax cuts and grants worth more than £20 billion.

The package comes after the public was told to avoid all non-essential contact and travel, while the elderly and those with underlying conditions were told they would have to stay home much more.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?

What is the coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.

Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.

The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals. 

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses). 

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’ 

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000. 

Where does the virus come from?

According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat. 

A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.

However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.

Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.

‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’  

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it? 

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die. 

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person. 

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why. 

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus? 

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world. 

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.   

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.   

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?  

The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.

However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.

Can the virus be cured? 

The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?   

The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’. 

Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.

 

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