Five of the United Kingdom's major supermarket chains have announced they will give coronavirus aid totaling $2.3 billion back to the government after seeing bigger proceeds than expected, the media said.
Sainsbury's said Thursday it would hand back business rates relief of around $590 million, having profited from its status as essential retail business during coronavirus lockdowns, according to Sky News. Soon after, Asda said it would waive the relief and pay business rates of $457 million to the UK government.
The supermarket chains followed in the footsteps of Tesco and Morrisons, who pledged to repay, respectively, $784 million and $367 million in business rates, granted to all retail, hospitality, and leisure businesses. Aldi said it would hand back $134 million.
In March, the UK government rolled out a number of fiscal measures to support businesses and individuals in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. This included a discount in business rate relief.
However, supermarkets have come under a barrage of criticism for taking government aid while paying dividends to shareholders amid a boom in sales.
According to a statement by the UK finance minister in November, the coronavirus pandemic has impeded the nation's economic growth due to the ramped up restrictions, noting that the economy had already begun to slow at the beginning of autumn.
Yet, as the number of new cases started to show a downward trend, the UK proceeded to emerge from an earlier imposed lockdown after it expired earlier this week and entered a revised three-tier system. The relaxed restrictions also come as the UK became the first country to approve the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech.