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LONDON: British public borrowing surged again in August to a record high, driven by huge outlays to combat the coronavirus pandemic, with the budget deficit so far this tax year overtaking its full-year peak during the global financial crisis.

The government has now borrowed 173.7 billion pounds ($221.8 billion) in the five months since the start of the financial year in April, outstripping the previous record of 157.7 billion pounds set in the 12 months ending March 2010.

Government budget forecasters have warned the deficit could hit 372 billion by the end of the tax year, raising borrowing as a share of gross domestic product to 18.9%, a level not seen since World War Two - far above long-term sustainable rates.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Thursday that now was the time to focus on restoring growth, not reducing borrowing, but tough decisions would be needed in the longer term.