Rishi Sunak forced to re-write Budget as coronavirus crisis hits UK economy
Rishi Sunak has been forced to re-write his Budget amid increasing concerns that the UK is on the verge of a major coronavirus outbreak.
The Chancellor is expected to announce extra cash for the NHS and other public services to help them cope with the impact of a major rise in confirmed cases.
Experts are also predicting a global economic slowdown, meaning Mr Sunak could have less money to spend unless he increases borrowing or taxes.
He is also expected to unveil a range of measures to help workers on zero hours contracts, and the self-employed, whose incomes could be hit by a country-wide shutdown as part of efforts to contain the COVID-19 virus.
Mr Sunak, who is due to deliver his first Budget speech on 11 March, was among a number of Cabinet ministers who attended an emergency Cobra meeting on Monday, at which the Government agreed a battle plan for takling the disease.
The Chancellor said: "The whole of government is working closely together to tackle the spread of COVID-19.
"We understand that people across the country are worried, but I assure you that we are taking firm action to support your families, your businesses and the public services on which you rely.
"We are well prepared for this global threat and, as the wider economic picture becomes clearer, we stand ready to announce further support where needed."
Boris Johnson will unveil the Government's battle plan alongside chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance in Downing Street on Tuesday morning.
Ministers are also drawing up emergency laws, which are expected to be in place by the end of this month, handing officials extra powers to deal with the outbreak.
Government sources have also warned that it will be "months rather than weeks" before the crisis peaks, meaning potentially hindreds of thousands more people will become infected.
The Prime Minister said: "It is highly likely coronavirus will spread more widely in the coming days and weeks, which is why we’re making every possible preparation.
"We have agreed a plan, which I will set out in detail today, so if the virus should spread, we are ready to take necessary steps to contain it and protect the most vulnerable.
"But we can all continue to do our bit to fight this virus - by washing our hands with soap and water for the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice."