Britain’s economy could be hit by ‘long Covid’ as firms face debt time bomb

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Britain’s economy could be hit by “Long Covid”, a business leader from one of the sectors hardest-hit by coronavirus warned today.

Industry chiefs laid bare the impact of the pandemic on travel, pubs, restaurants, shops and town centres as they gave evidence to MPs.

Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash has been pumped into various schemes including furlough to prevent an unemployment nightmare in sectors forced to close by lockdown restrictions.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade body UKHospitality, told the Commons Treasury Select Committee landlords faced a debt time bomb when the rent moratorium ends this month.

She said: “You are going to have Long Covid for the economy if you are not very careful.

“We currently have £2.5billion in historic rent debt which is going to fall in one hit on July 1, when the moratoriums end, so we urgently need those extending.

“We are two weeks away from the next quarter rent day, so we need that extended as a matter of urgency and we need the Government to work with us, lenders, landlords, to find a solution to this rent debt so we don’t start tripping up businesses and causing insolvencies when we should be coming out of this crisis.”

Association of British Travel Agents chief executive Mark Tanzer claimed Government support has not been “adequate” for the sector.

Industry bosses are furious with ministers over the “traffic light” regime for overseas travel.

Portugal will be added to the amber travel list tomorrow
(Image: Jonathan Buckmaster)

Portugal will be added to the amber list at 4am tomorrow – meaning passengers returning from the country must self-isolate for 10 days on their return.

He said: “Last week’s news regarding Portugal, one of the few countries on the green list, being placed on the amber list, was a real blow.

“It sent a signal to industry and customers that the Government is in pursuit of domestic health policy, which we support, and that international travel is not going to come back as envisaged.

“The support measures that have been available have been appreciated but at the margin and not adequate for the scale of the challenge the travel industry has faced and is facing.

“The summer season counts for two-thirds, we are in it, and no-one is travelling.”

In the Commons, Conservative Transport Select Committee chairman Huw Merriman quizzed Health Secretary Matt Hancock about reopening international travel.

Mr Hancock said: “It is going to be challenging, it’s going to be hard because of the risk of new variants popping up in places like Portugal which have an otherwise relatively low case rate.

“But the biggest challenge, and the reason this is so difficult, is that a variant that undermines the vaccine effort obviously would undermine the return to domestic freedom – and that has to be protected at all costs.”

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Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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