Covid-19: Furlough extended to September, and Texas ends mask rule

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Here are five things you need to know about the coronavirus pandemic this Wednesday morning. We'll have another update for you this evening.

1. Furlough extended to end of September

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will reveal the government's tax and spending plans in the Budget later - and the latest announcement before the speech is that the UK furlough scheme will be extended to the end of September. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, as it's officially known, began in March 2020 and was due to finish at the end of April. It pays 80% of an employee's wages when they cannot work during the pandemic. It has protected 11m jobs so far, at a cost of almost £50bn, and has already been extended twice. Under the latest extension, the employer will pay 10% of the furlough in July, and 20% in August and September. Mr Sunak will also announce that a fourth grant from the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme will be available from April. Our budget preview is here - while the chart below shows how UK public sector net debt has risen.

2. Texas and other states end mask rules

Texas will end its mask rules and allow businesses to reopen at full capacity next week, Governor Greg Abbott has announced. "It is now time to open Texas 100%," the Republican said on Tuesday. Texas is the largest US state to end its mask mandate. Similar rules have also been lifted in other states, including Michigan, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The decisions are at odds with US President Joe Biden, who has said restrictions are still necessary. Here's an earlier video on how some US Covid victims are being remembered.

media captionThe 'colourful' lives lost to Covid - how obituaries are helping us all mourn

3. Isle of Man gets 21-day lockdown after spike in cases

The end of the recent lockdown in the Isle of Man was toasted across the island - but restrictions are back after a spike in cases. The 21-day "circuit breaker" began at 00:01 on Wednesday. There are currently 52 active cases on the Isle of Man - and more than 40 cases have been linked to a ferry crew member, who tested positive on 18 February.

image captionPeople will be required to stay at home except for exercise or essential travel

4. Delays in test kits for some UK arrivals

Some international arrivals to the UK have waited nine days for Covid test kits that should be taken on day two of a 10-day quarantine. Travellers from countries not on the UK's "red list" must purchase a £210 testing kit, with a test taken on day two and day eight of isolation. Those who do not take the tests may face penalties of up to £2,000. Read more here.

image copyrightYury Babin
image captionYury Babin, from Moscow, is one of those awaiting a kit in the UK

5. Vaccine, vaccine: Dolly Parton sings for jab

Country star Dolly Parton has had a Covid-19 vaccine, after urging others to follow her example by reimagining one of her hit songs. Parton, 75, sang an adapted version of Jolene before receiving the shot in Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday.

media captionWatch Dolly Parton sing a special vaccine edition of her hit song Jolene

And don't forget...

You can find more information, advice and guides on our coronavirus page. This page looks at the new rules for furlough payments.

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