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UK News

Coronavirus like nuclear explosion, says Archbishop of Canterbury

by Press Association

The Archbishop of Canterbury has likened the coronavirus pandemic to a nuclear explosion, the fallout of which will last for years and shape the nation's future in unforeseeable ways.

Speaking at Westminster, the Most Rev Justin Welby welcomed the "war budget commitment" made by the Government to shore up the struggling economy.

But the top Anglican cleric stressed the need for the "enormous and unprecedented" financial support to benefit the entire country and not just the big cities.

Many towns and smaller communities had been in decline for years, and the Covid-19 outbreak "may well be the last straw for some", he warned.

Mr Welby called for the funding to be guided by a "moral and ethical" vision "on a scale with the spending" which "recovers 'us' and 'we' from the era of 'I' and 'me'".

His comments in a House of Lords debate on the economy, came after the Chancellor Rishi Sunak set out a £350 billion rescue package to help businesses survive the crisis.

Mr Welby told peers: "The crisis through which we are passing will change this nation in deep and unpredictable ways.

"Like a nuclear explosion, the initial impact is colossal but the fallout last for years and will shape us in ways we can't even begin to predict at the moment."

He added: "We will overcome the virus. Small groups all over the country are showing fresh signs of community spirit and collaboration. It is from those small groups through to the large scale government measures that things will change.

"But during a crisis, keeping the long term direction is as important as tackling the short term problem.

"The enormous package package of short-terms measures is by its very size sufficient to raise hope and for that it is welcome. 15% of GDP is a war budget commitment.

"The obvious question is how will it be distributed. How will it be used in a way that's effective.

"If we are to put confidence as the aim and people at the centre, the distribution, the impact must be both swift enough and imaginative enough to maintain confidence right across the economy, not only in the big cities with their own self-sustaining economy, but in the myriad of towns and smaller communities across the country.

"For many of these there has been decline for many years. Covid-19 may well be the last straw for some."

The massive financial package "must be used with the vision of preserving the most fragile parts of the system or we will lose all", Mr Welby warned.

He said: "The use of these funds so enormous and unprecedented must be seen as being based in a clear moral and ethical structure.

"To be moral and ethical, there has to be a vision on a scale with the spending.

"A vision that recovers 'us' and 'we' from the era of 'I' and 'me'. In short, a vision to recreate the notion and reality of society."

Mr Welby added: "We are going to see huge change. It can be towards what we choose or it will be what the strong make it."

Also speaking in the Lords debate, former Tory Treasury minister Lord O'Neill of Gatley argued the need for a "dramatic economic policy gesture" in response to the global emergency.

The independent crossbencher said: "We need some sort of income support for all our citizens, whether employees or employers, for the next two months. Perhaps one might call it, as I have done, truly a people's QE - quantitative easing."

He added: "If we give all our people confidence that they can essentially have something close to an eight-week paid holiday, and there is no reason for any employer to lay any of them off permanently or for those employers to worry about their income, that should give the confidence for us to allow what has been done so well in Asia to be fully done here, and get this virus behind us."

Conservative former chancellor Lord Lamont said: "To many people, the world economy must resemble a slow-motion apocalypse.

"This was originally a health crisis, but the measures that governments worldwide are forced to take to combat it add to the economic problems and to the crisis."

Backing the Chancellor's use of a "big bazooka" to support businesses, the Tory peer added: "Confidence is not going to return quickly - indeed, it probably will not return until progress is made in combating the virus - but the measures will be a bridge to that confidence."

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