Covid-19: Economy warning, Christmas caution, and custom face masks

Covid-19: Economy warning, Christmas caution, and custom face masks

Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Wednesday evening. We’ll have another update for you tomorrow morning.

1. ‘Economic emergency’

The chancellor has warned the “economic emergency” caused by coronavirus has only just begun in the UK. In his Spending Review, Rishi Sunak said the pandemic would deal lasting damage to growth and jobs, and that it had triggered the largest fall in Britain’s economic output for 300 years. He added that the UK economy is expected to shrink by 11.3% this year and not return to its pre-crisis size until the end of 2022. And he confirmed a pay freeze for most public sector workers and a cut in overseas aid. Our economics editor Faisal Islam says the UK economy remains “in rescue mode”. Read the key points from the chancellor’s statementhow the Spending Review will affect you and why some young people think Mr Sunak hasn’t gone far enough.

2. Unemployment to rise

The number of unemployed people will surge to 2.6 million by the middle of next year, according to the government’s independent forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility. The latest figures show 1.62 million people are unemployed, a number which has risen by more than 300,000 since last year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The last time the UK unemployment figure was as high as 2.6 million was in May to July 2012. The number exceeded 3 million from 1983 to 1987 and for a few months in early 1993. In his Spending Review, the chancellor said government borrowing will rise to its highest outside of wartime to deal with the economic impact. So, why is unemployment rising?

3. Christmas caution

People have been urged to consider the risk of spreading coronavirus when rules are relaxed over Christmas. It comes after it was confirmed that up to three households will be allowed to stay together and form a “Christmas bubble” from 23 to 27 December, as agreed by all four UK nations. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told people to use “personal judgement” on whether or not to visit elderly or vulnerable relatives. Meanwhile, there have been calls for a UK-wide approach to coronavirus rules after Christmas. Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said it “makes sense” to “respond to the consequences of greater household mixing” together in the aftermath of the five-day period. Here’s our guide to the Christmas rules and how to keep the virus at bay this festive season.

4. Domestic abuse cases rise

The number of domestic abuse offences recorded by police in England and Wales has increased during the pandemic. However, the Office for National Statistics said such offences gradually rose in recent years so it cannot be determined if it was related to the pandemic. Police recorded 259,324 domestic abuse offences between March and June – 7% up on the same period in 2019. During and after the first lockdown in April, May and June, roughly one-fifth of offences involved domestic abuse.

5. Custom face masks

Intensive care nurse Valerie Bednar, who struggled to get face masks to fit her, has inspired the design of custom-fit ones for frontline healthcare workers. Her husband Gareth Smith set up MyMaskFit, which is aiming to become the first in the UK to make custom-fit, reusable, filtering face piece masks to a medical grade standard. Based in Swansea, the firm hopes to further develop a prototype designed by researchers at Birmingham University and King’s College London – with the aim of making them available to the NHS in Wales in the new year. Read Valerie and Gareth’s story.

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