United Kingdom

Coronavirus UK: Cost of face masks to rise by a fifth as Treasury refuses to extend VAT holiday

The cost of face masks is set to rise by a fifth from next week as the Government comes under fire for refusing to extend the VAT freeze on PPE.

Treasury officials have told retailers that the six-month VAT holiday on personal protective equipment would come to an end on October 31.  

The 20 per cent tax was temporarily waived on May 1 to help cope with a surge in demand for Covid-19 protective kit amid peak pandemic paranoia.   

The controversial decision means that the increase will be passed on to consumers for coverings, which have become mandatory in many areas of British life.    

It is estimated that the cost of freezing the VAT on PPE for most of the Covid-19 pandemic will be around £200million, the Telegraph reports. 

Industry officials had been lobbying Government for an extension of the freeze, insisting that it was in the national interest as the UK recorded over 20,000 cases. 

In other coronavirus developments: 

The Government has been criticised for refusing to extend a VAT freeze on PPE, despite daily Covid cases rising above 20,000 (file photo)

Industry officials had been lobbying Government for an extension of the freeze, insisting that it was in the national interest as the UK recorded over 20,000 cases

The SAGE files: Papers presented to Government claim Covid-19 is mutating, London ISN'T seeing a spike in cases and patients are dying quicker in the second wave than they did in the first 

Scientific advisers have been warned that the coronavirus is mutating and could become more infectious, according to SAGE papers published today. 

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) said the UK did not have the capability to research these mutations in depth and whether they would be harmful.

It's one of a number of papers released by the Government today that give an insight into how scientists are steering the pandemic. 

The idea was explored in a scientific report handed to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which then presents the findings to the Government to help inform public health policy. 

Another document shows how scientists have found that London has so far avoided a 'second wave' on the scale of those happening in other major cities in England, such as Liverpool and Manchester.

Experts speculate this is because more of the capital's population has some form of immunity to the coronavirus after having it already, compared to the North West, which did not have infections as high as London in the first wave.

Meanwhile data reveals hospitalised Covid-19 patients are dying quicker than they were the first time around - take a week on average, rather than two. This may be because treatment has improved, and therefore doctors can save the lives of those who are not as sick and would usually take longer to die, pushing up the average time.

SAGE also attempted to end the debate about a segregated approach to lockdowns, whereby the most vulnerable are shielded and the young return to normality.

Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association, told the newspaper: 'Even under the new scheme most providers are having to purchase more PPE on top. The 20 per cent extra they will be paying in VAT will have an impact.

'We are hearing some very clear messages coming out about the sector warning that it is at a tipping point.

'There was an expectation within the sector that the VAT exemption would last until the end of the pandemic. This is an extra financial burden that will not have been costed and in some cases could be the difference between them being able to continue operating. It is outrageous.' 

A Treasury source claimed: 'This relief was designed to relieve the burden of VAT on the price of purchasing PPE used for protection from coronavirus by front line workers, and has particularly aided sectors that cannot recover VAT on such goods due to their VAT exempt status, such as care homes.

'Since then, DHSC have stabilised the UK PPE supply chain to meet current demand and are building a stockpile which will be in place by the 1st of November.' 

James Bielby, Chief Executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, which represents companies involved in purchasing and distributing PPE told MailOnline: 'The Government's decision means that the cost for PPE will be passed on to consumers.

'We are still in the middle of the pandemic and in a period of restrictions across the whole country and believe that the VAT freeze on PPE needed to stay in place.

'There is a compelling argument for this and valid reasons for it to continue. We will continue lobbying Government but are very disappointed with their decision.' 

Tory MP Philip Dunne, who pushed for the exemption earlier in the pandemic, told MailOnline the exemption should stay in place.

'As one of those who pressed the Chancellor in the spring to get relief for PPE to help the care sector, it remains under pressure as we head into winter,' the former minister said. 

'I would urge him to extend the VAT relief until we come out the other side of the Covid pandemic.

'I am particularly concerned about care homes because they have an enormous demand for it.' 

A Government spokesperson told the MailOnline: 'DHSC [Department of Health and Social Care] have committed in the Winter Plan to provide free PPE for Covid-19 need to adult social care - the beneficiaries of this tax incentive - until March 2021 through their stockpile, ensuring a stable supply of PPE.' 

Both hospitals and care homes need medical-grade PPE supplies to ensure their staff, patients and residents are kept safe from the virus. 

Early in the pandemic, reports of doctors and nurses using bin bags to protect their bodies and feet were commonplace due to a shortage in PPE for frontline staff.     

Nurses pictured wearing clinical waste bags at Northwick Park hospital in March

The news of the imminent end to the VAT freeze comes shortly after it was announced that demand for beds has prompted the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Manchester to reopen in the next week as the city heads into a Tier Three lockdown. 

Hospitals in neighbouring Liverpool are already treating more Covid-19 patients than in April.

A local NHS boss today announced the temporary hospital, set up in the Manchester Central Conference Centre, will be brought back into use before the end of next week. It will become the first one in England to reopen.

It had closed in June when the first wave of the UK's outbreak burned out, but there are now fears that local hospitals will be inundated with Covid patients again.

The Nightingale will not be used to treat people seriously ill with coronavirus but instead opened to add capacity for 'additional rehabilitation'. 

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