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PM to unveil spending blitz as he vows to ‘ready’ country for Covid consequences
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June 28, 2020 at 8:35 am

The Prime Minister will announce a spending blitz next week as he looks to “ready” the country for the “thunderclap of economic consequences” caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Laying out his vision for the country’s revival, Boris Johnson will use a speech on Tuesday to announce the creation of a taskforce charged with fast-tracking the building of schools, hospitals, roads and even prisons as the UK bids to find a way out of the downturn.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson – who claimed to be feeling as “fit as a butcher’s dog” following his own brush with Covid-19 – said: “This has been a huge, huge shock to the country but we’re going to bounce back very well.

“We want to build our way back to health.

“If Covid was a lightning flash, we’re about to have the thunderclap of the economic consequences. We’re going to be ready.”

Downing Street said the speed at which the NHS Nightingale hospitals were created across the country during the deadly outbreak inspired Mr Johnson to set up the infrastructure delivery taskforce, which will be chaired by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The group will be told there are now “no excuses for delays” to building programmes after the country demonstrated it can move at pace during a national emergency.

Known as “Project Speed” among officials, the body will sift through the blueprints of major infrastructure projects which are in the pipeline and look to iron out any inefficiencies which could hold-up their delivery and stall the country’s recovery.

The PM told the Mail the country would “‘absolutely not (be) going back to the austerity of ten years ago” seen under ex-Tory leader David Cameron, with multiple reports saying Mr Johnson is preparing to announce “tens of billions” of pounds of investmentBor.

The Government hopes a building boom will boost jobs and improve connectivity as it looks to drive growth after the pandemic.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The coronavirus response has shown that it doesn’t have to take years to get essential projects off the ground – the Nightingale hospitals and ventilator challenge were up and running in a matter of weeks.

“As we recover from the pandemic we must apply that same urgency to the major projects at the foundations of this country and get them done right, to truly level up opportunity across the UK.

“There’s now no excuse for delays. Infrastructure has the power to rebuild and repair our country – and we will do it better, faster and more strategically than before.”

The development comes as reports suggested a further one million people could become jobless – adding to the 2.8 million already out of work – if further Government support is not announced by August.

The Observer reported that fresh House of Commons Library analysis indicated that unemployment levels could soar to levels not seen since the 1980s, tipping past the peak of 3.3 million recorded in 1984 during Margaret Thatcher’s time in Number 10.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health confirmed that the UK has recorded 100 more coronavirus deaths, the lowest Saturday figure since the start of lockdown. The total death toll is thought to have passed 54,000.

Health Secretary Matthew Hancock is, according to a report in the Sunday Times, said to be concerned about spiking coronavirus numbers in Leicester after he sent in a mobile testing unit last week to uncover the full extent of the local spread.

Ministers have previously stated that local lockdowns could be used to crush any sign of a second wave flare up.

It comes as travel companies reported a huge rise in the number of bookings, with websites creaking under the demand, as ministers prepare to announce an end to quarantine arrangements for a slew of popular holiday destinations.

Ministers are next week due to confirm the blanket requirement to self-isolate for 14 days upon returning to the UK will be scrapped as part of a so-called ‘traffic light’ system, meaning jaunts to France, Greece and Spain, where virus transmission is low, are within sight.

The traffic light system will have officials placing countries into green, amber and red categories based on the prevalence of coronavirus within each nation’s borders.

The news, which will be officially announced after a formal review of the quarantine measures on Monday, saw the Eurotunnel website struggle with the surge in demand.

Travel firm Tui said it had seen a 50% spike in bookings this week compared to the previous one, with holidays to Spain and Greece proving popular.

The list of quarantine-free countries is due to be published on Wednesday, with restrictions lifted as soon as July 6.

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