LONDON (Reuters) – The United Kingdom has extended by a month until the end of June the furlough scheme for workers at companies hit by the coronavirus outbreak, finance minister Rishi Sunak said.

The announcement comes a day after Britain lengthened its nationwide lockdown for at least another three weeks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak which has already claimed over 140,000 lives globally.

“It is the right decision to extend the furlough scheme for a month to the end of June to provide clarity,” Sunak said.

“It is vital for people’s livelihoods that the UK economy gets up and running again when it is safe to do so, and I will continue to review the scheme so it is supporting our recovery.”

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme represents the centrepiece of Sunak’s plan to shield the world’s fifth-biggest economy from the full force of the crisis.

The scheme, which allows firms to furlough employees with the government paying cash grants of 80% of their wages up to a maximum of 2,500 pounds ($3,123), was originally open for three months and backdated from the 1 March to the end of May.

Sunak said last month there is no limit on how much the British government could spend to support employees.

Before the latest extension, the Resolution Foundation think tank said the scheme was likely to cost between 30 and 40 billion pounds for the three months until the end of May.

The extra month announced by Sunak is likely to add at least 10 billion pounds to the total.

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