Coronavirus: NHS will get whatever it needs, says chancellor

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The economic impact of the virus could be “significant but temporary”, says the chancellor

The NHS will get “whatever resources it needs” to cope with a coronavirus epidemic, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has said ahead of Wednesday’s Budget.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show “strong” economic foundations meant he could provide additional funding.

The chancellor also said he was looking at extra financial help for individuals and businesses if measures against the virus meant they were out of pocket.

“People shouldn’t be penalised for doing the right thing,” he said.

As of Sunday morning, there have been 211 positive tests for coronavirus in the UK – as two more were confirmed in Wales – and two deaths.

Mr Sunak has pledged to address the outbreak in his first Budget and said the impact of the virus on business “could be significant, but for a temporary period of time”.

He said: “I can say absolutely, categorically, the NHS will get whatever resources it needs to get us through this crisis.”

The government’s medical advisers say the UK is still in the “containment” phase, but they expect to move to a “delay” phase soon, in which the focus is on trying to slow down the spread.

This phase could see the introduction of “social distancing” measures such as closing schools and urging people to work from home.

Mr Sunak said he was looking at temporary measures to support people who may be unable to go to work or businesses which may suffer as a result of the measures.

This could include ensuring benefits under universal credit and Employment and Support Allowance are available “quickly and effectively”, waiving requirements for sick notes or in-person benefits interviews, and providing help for businesses with cashflow problems, he said.

“I’m keen to make sure when we get through the other side, we haven’t lost these great small businesses permanently,” he said.

With an epidemic potentially putting extraordinary pressures on the public and private sector, Mr Sunak was repeatedly asked whether he would stick to the government’s fiscal rules.

He did not answer directly, but said he believed “very much in the importance of fiscal responsibility, about responsible management of our public finances” and added that “difficult decisions” by past chancellors meant he could respond to this crisis.

He declined to say whether government debt would be lower by the end of this parliament, if the government would borrow to fund day-to-day spending or whether he could guarantee to balance the budget within three years.

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