AT a bewildering time for all of us, there have emerged some constants. As the coronavirus has taken increasing control over our lives, we are now accustomed to nightly briefings by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, flanked by his top scientific advisers, on efforts to combat the crisis.

The now-regular appearances of Chancellor Rishi Sunak announcing ever more radical steps to shore up business and the economy is also something we have come to set our watches by too.

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And last night, the commitments made by the Chancellor finally came closer to what businesses this week have been urgently demanding. In short, for the Government to step in and help pay the wages of people retained by firms devastated by the collapse in trade the virus has wrought.

After another bleak day for UK jobs, which saw nearly 900 posts go at Hays Travel, it came not a minute too soon.

Prior to last night, Mr Sunak had twice unveiled measures to help businesses cope with the precipitous drop in revenue coronavirus has trailed in its wake. First during his maiden Budget last week, which now feels like a lifetime ago, and then on Tuesday, when he went yet further in his promise of Government help.

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The second tranche was underpinned by a pledge by the Government to provide guarantees for up to

£330 billion of loans to ease firms’ liquidity through the crisis, as well as increasing the amount firms can borrow, to £5 million from £1.2m, under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Alongside that was further relief from business rates, giving all retail, hospitality and leisure firms in England a 100 per cent business rates holiday for the next 12 months. That was quickly matched by the Scottish Government, which unveiled a 100 per cent rates holiday for one year for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses.

Mr Sunak has promised to do whatever it takes to get the UK through the pandemic. But as the week wore on the urgency of the situation, laid bare as the job losses mounted and the Bank of England cut the base rate to just 0.1%, demanded more.

Last night, though, he went a long way to delivering the kind of emergency aid businesses need.

In an intervention described by Mr Sunak as “unprecedented in the history of the British state”, he said the Government, through HM Revenue & Customs, will pay up to 80% of the salaries of retained workers up to £2,500 a month, with employers free to top it up if they can.

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The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which will be backdated to March 1, will take effect for three months and, Mr Sunak pledged, could also be extended if necessary.

In a week when increasingly desperate firms in Scotland have declared only direct cash support will stop them going under, there was at last some relief for employers worried that the crisis will spell closure for their firms – and for people fearful of being cast on to the scrapheap.

There was other support for firms too. Alongside a pledge to pay wages, the Chancellor offered further breaks to business, including the deferral of £30bn of valued added tax (VAT) payments for a year. There was also a promise to extend the interest-free element on loans provided under the business disruption scheme.

Responding to last night’s announcement, CBI Scotland director Tracy Black said the latest intervention “marks the start of the UK’s economic fightback”, declaring it was an “important day for our country”.

Ms Black said: “This is a landmark package of measures for business, people and jobs. The Chancellor’s offer of substantial payroll support, fast access to cash and tax deferral will support the livelihoods of millions.”

There was a positive response, too, from the Scottish Tourism Alliance, which said the aid will “go a long way to offering comfort and reassurance to all businesses and employees within the sector who are at risk.”

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But the Alliance made a further, important observation, fearing that the measures may well have come too late for the thousands of people who have already lost their jobs.

In addition, while moves to ensure the self-employed can at least claim the equivalent of statutory sick pay, there are fears it simply won’t be enough to live on for those who run their own companies.

On a night when Mr Johnson finally ordered pubs, cafes, nightclubs, gyms theatres and cinemas to shut, the battle against this pandemic moved into a new phase. It is to be hoped these measures can provide countless businesses with at least a fighting chance of survival.