The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will announce a limited extension of the furlough scheme on Friday amid the prospect of legal action to prevent new restrictions from being imposed.
Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, indicated he would take the government to court to stop new measures being introduced without “proper compensation and a local furlough scheme for staff”.
Sunak will on Friday outline new support for people and businesses in areas expected to face tough new restrictions, including the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants, next week.
A Treasury spokeswoman said: “The chancellor will be setting out the next stage of the job support scheme later today, that will protect jobs and provide a safety net for those businesses that may have to close in the coming weeks and months.”
The announcement comers amid growing alarm that hospitals in the worst-hit parts of England could run out of Covid beds within weeks amid sharply rising numbers of patients in the north-west and north-east. Some 609 coronavirus patients were admitted to hospital yesterday, up a fifth in a day, and a further 17,540 cases and 77 deaths were reported.
Civic leaders in northern England said they would strongly oppose any fresh restrictions that did not come with significant financial support for businesses and residents. They have called for a local furlough scheme on a similar scale to the original plan in which the state paid 80% of workers’ wages, warning that tens of thousands of jobs would be lost before Christmas without sufficient support.
Burnham said he would use “whatever means I can” to challenge the government to help people “because otherwise they are going to suffer real hardship this winter – we are going to see businesses failing,” he told BBC Question Time.
MPs representing constituencies in the Midlands and north of England – where case numbers are highest – were told on Thursday that the number of coronavirus patients in intensive care in the region would surpass the April peak if infections continue rising at the current rate.
In a briefing chaired by England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, they were also told that bars, pubs and restaurants accounted for 41% of cases in which two or more under-30s had visited the same venue in the week before testing positive. This fell to a quarter of infections across all age groups, the MPs were told, according to early research from Public Health England.
The briefing was seen as paving the way for the imminent closure of the hospitality industry in Merseyside and other hard-hit parts of the north of England.
Gillian Keegan, the skills minister, said on BBC Question Time: “This is serious – it is getting out of control, and we have to do something to bring it back under control.”
Keegan admitted that the government’s communication needed to be “much clearer”. She said it was “probably very frustrating if leaks are made or there is speculation in the press, and I don’t know which of those it is.
“But clearly we have to do something if we’re going to bring those cases back under control.”