Pedestrians walk past the Houses of Parliament, in central London. Photo: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
Pedestrians walk past the Houses of Parliament in central London, where the economy has slumped. Photo: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

Britain’s coronavirus-ravaged economy slumped almost one-fifth during the country’s lockdown and remained set for its sharpest decline in annual output for 300 years, official data showed Tuesday.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said gross domestic product plunged 19.1% in the three months to May “as government restrictions on movement dramatically reduced economic activity.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility, in charge of the government’s economic forecasts, said the “UK is on track to record the largest decline in annual GDP for 300 years,” estimating that the economy could shrink by as much as 14.3% in 2020.

The Bank of England had already forecast that the UK economy could have its sharpest annual contraction in centuries.

GDP output grew 1.8% in May from April as the government began to ease restrictions, particularly boosting construction and manufacturing.

Yet the economy remains about 24.5% below its size in February before the pandemic spread.

“Manufacturing and house-building showed signs of recovery as some businesses saw staff return to work,” said Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician at the ONS, in reference to the May data. 

“Despite this, the economy was still a quarter smaller in May than in February, before the full effects of the pandemic struck.

“In the important services sector we saw some pick-up in retail, which saw record online sales.

“However, with lockdown restrictions remaining in place, many other services remained in the doldrums, with a number of areas seeing further declines,” Athow added.

Britain has been one of the countries worst hit by the virus, with nearly 45,000 deaths from positive coronavirus cases, according to an official government tally. 

Broader statistics taking into account suspected cases puts the death toll at more than 50,000.

Britain is in the final stages of rolling back nationwide coronavirus restrictions imposed on March 23.

Meanwhile, facemasks are to become compulsory in shops and supermarkets in England from next week, the government said on Tuesday, in a U-turn on previous policy.