A delay to the UK’s planned lockdown end date of June 21 could “materially slow” the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC).
In its forecast for the UK’s economic recovery from the pandemic, the BCC’s head of economics Suren Thiru warned that the “squeeze on activity and the damage to confidence from a marked delay to the full lifting of restrictions or further restrictions to combat covid variants” would hamper the country’s ability to return to pre-COVID growth levels.
The BCC also predicted that the UK’s gross domestic product growth for 2021 will be 6.8%, the highest outturn since records began in 1949, assuming restrictions were not reimposed or continued beyond the government’s planned end date.
The prediction also expected the UK economy to return to its pre-pandemic level by the first quarter of 2022, driven mainly by consumer spending. The BCC said the “release of pent-up demand” and a rapid vaccine rollout is predicted to drive the “strongest growth in spending since 1988” as consumers spent “unanticipated” savings accumulated during lockdown.
The BCC’s warning of ongoing restrictions hampering economic expansion follow reports that the government is considering postponing the final stage of lockdown easing by at least two weeks in order to allow all over-50s to be offered their second dose of the vaccine.
A delay will mean venues such as nightclubs and some theatres will be forced to remain closed, while the one-metre plus distancing rule in pubs and restaurants and the rule of six for meeting in groups indoors will remain in place.
An extension, as well as heightened concerns about the highly infectious Delta variant from India, is also likely to spell trouble for firms in the travel sector, particularly those such as newsagent WH Smith PLC which relies on airport passenger traffic for a large part of its business.
Also unlikely to be happy at the news are tour operators and airlines, who are already grappling with the UK’s ongoing border restrictions which may be tightened further as the government seeks to prevent the importation of new cases of COVID-19.