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UK Govt unveils emergency jobs scheme for corona affected people

People asked to download govt’s contact-tracing app. ‘NHS Covid-19’ instructs users to self-isolate for 14 days if it detects they were nearby to a virus victim

Nation special report

LONDON: In wake of new second wave of coronavirus pandemic, it is decided that the government and firms will continue to top up the wages of workers who have not been able to return to the workplace full time due to the virus pandemic. The Jobs Support Scheme, which will replace the furlough scheme when it ends, will see workers get up to 77% of their normal salaries for six months.

According to a BBC report, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said it was part of a wider “winter economy plan”. Nearly three million workers – or 12% of the UK’s workforce – are currently on partial or full furlough leave, according to official figures. The Job Retention Scheme ends on 31 October.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak

It aims to stop mass job cuts after the government introduced new measures to tackle coronavirus.The chancellor said that employees will have to be working for at least a third of their normal hours to qualify for the new scheme, which begins on 1 November.

Between them, the government and the employer will then cover part of their salary for the remaining hours not worked.

The government will cover a third of this sum, capped at £697.92 per month, while firms cover a further third.

It means workers on the scheme will not get their full salary but should get at least 77%. Mr Sunak said a similar scheme for the self-employed would be available.

Mr Sunak also announced that businesses that have borrowed money through the government’s loan scheme will be given more time to repay the money. And a VAT cut for hospitality and tourism companies will also be extended until March. The cut from 20% to 5% VAT – which came into force on 15 July – had been due to expire on 12 January next year.

Covid-19 app

People living in England and Wales are being urged to download the government’s contact-tracing app following its official release. NHS Covid-19 instructs users to self-isolate for 14 days if it detects they were nearby someone who has the virus.

It also has a check-in scanner to alert owners if a venue they have visited is found to be an outbreak hotspot.

Anyone aged 16 and over is being asked to install the app on to their smartphone.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the app “helps us to find more people who are at risk of having the virus” that human contact tracers are unable to find. “Everybody who downloads the app will be helping to protect themselves, helping to protect their loved ones, helping to protect their community because the more people who download it, the more effective it will be,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The app keeps secret who receives a self-isolation alert. And there was some confusion about whether users could ignore a notification telling them to stay at home.

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast: “That self-isolation is voluntary, unlike the mandatory self-isolation if you are called by NHS Test and Trace.”

But the Department of Health had earlier said that users must obey the command and would in theory be liable for fines of £1,000 or more if they did not, while acknowledging it had no way to check.

A senior source has since told the BBC that the notification is “advisory” because the authorities cannot legally enforce something that cannot be proved.

How to use app

The decision to allow those 16 and over to download the app is a change from trials, which were limited to the over-18s.

The move reflects a desire by health chiefs for the software to be used by as many students in further education colleges and universities as possible.

The age limit is in line with the Protect Scotland contact-tracing app. And health chiefs behind Northern Ireland’s StopCOVID NI have said they intend to launch a new version that accepts under-18s later this month.

The launch comes as the UK reported 6,178 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, up 1,252 since Tuesday, and 37 deaths.

The government had originally intended to release the app months ago. But problems with the initial design and the addition of extra features meant it was only ready for its final public test in August.

One tech expert who has tracked the initiative acknowledged the team involved had worked hard to address concerns about privacy and transparency, but said wider problems could still limit its impact.